Alex Tillery’s running just a moment late before heading to his conversational Spanish class. The 23-year-old Temple student briefly stepped back into the Point Breeze house he’s living in Monday morning to deal with a roommate’s drug test results. Then he was on his way, beginning the 12-minute walk to the subway and a 20-minute ride north to campus.
Tillery is the manager at a recovery house in South Philadelphia, a 10-resident house where he’s lived — sober and off of alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines — for the past 14 months since he got out of a rehab facility in Media.
Tillery’s not alone at Temple. And while there are counseling options and support groups at the state-related university for students like Tillery who are in college and in recovery — trying their damnedest to resist the undeniable temptation that comes with college life — the school doesn’t fund on-campus or university-sponsored recovery housing.
But there are efforts underway to change that.
George Basile, a 21-year-old senior at the city’s largest university and a former representative in Temple Student Government, is working with university officials to develop a board proposal and raise $100,000 in what he described as “seed funding” that would establish university-sponsored recovery housing.
Inspired by his father’s recovery fighting an addiction to prescription painkillers, Basile said he realized after reading an article in the student newspaper that Temple didn’t have university-subsidized recovery housing for students. There are psychological services and therapy offerings, but he said that might not be enough for some students working to stay sober.
“When it comes to the weekend and comes to after hours,” Basile said, “there needs to be that component of assurance where students can go back to the dorm or the recovery housing and be with a group of people all working toward the same goal, as well as staff ensuring their wellbeing almost 24 hours a day.”
The road to university recovery housing
After Basile introduced a bill in Temple’s student government (called “Parliament”) last February to urge the Temple administration to explore establishing recovery housing, the group of students voted unanimously in favor in April. There was little movement, though, after that vote.
So for about the last month-and-a-half, Basile has worked with Temple’s dean of students to find donors and funding sources. The idea is that if they can go to the school’s Board of Trustees with funding to get the housing — which will need trained counselors, programming and other staff — off the ground, their proposal will have teeth.
Residence Life officials didn’t respond to a request for comment, but university spokesman Brandon Lausch said Temple is “assessing interest among the student body for recovery housing to ensure we are meeting students’ needs.” He said offices across the campus system are discussing ways to enhance programming for students facing addiction.
“We are certainly open to meeting with students to discuss this possibility, but it would need to be a larger initiative beyond providing residential space,” Lausch said. “Many other successful campus programs partner with resources to provide that additional support.”
How other universities approach recovery housing
Right here in Philadelphia, Drexel University offers recovery housing. The school partners with The Haven at College, a national organization that facilitates residential and extended recovery communities on college campuses. In addition to housing, The Haven at Drexel, which opened in 2012, offers students peer mentoring, 12-step meetings and confidential peer support.
Other universities in the region offer campus recovery housing specifically for students, including Penn State, which opened its ROAR House in 2015, and Rutgers University, which launched one of the country’s first campus recovery programs in the late ’80s.
Basile said Temple, largely because it’s located in a major city facing an increasing drug abuse crisis as opioid overdoses skyrocket, is in a position to lead in the recovery sphere.
“If Temple University takes the forefront on this action, it can be the national leader in this,” Basile said. “Because we set the standard for Philadelphia, which in turn sets standard for Pennsylvania, which in turn sets a standard for the nation.”
For students like Tillery, recovery housing has been key.
Today, he’s more clear-headed than ever. He’s focused on getting his degree in global studies, and determined to evangelize the 12-step program that worked for him not too long ago. Tillery attends meetings every day to maintain his sobriety, and he’s at his happiest when he’s helping others, whether that’s sponsoring other men who want to get sober, or helping to lead a group of students in recovery.
“I was reluctant to do the recovery house thing,” Tillery admits. “But now? I know it friggin’ saved my life.”