Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Got an email yesterday from a former manager who was with us three or four years ago.

She wasn't slamming TLC. But she had some questions about whether I was still in touch with front line managers. Maybe as if I didn't know exactly what was going on? Or maybe I wasn't aware when managers were rude or inconsiderate with clients. Perhaps someone told her one of our managers treated him poorly. I’m not sure what inspired her to write.

Now after having some 300 thousand+ residents over 20 years I know some people could be treated badly. Sometimes managers are incompetent. Sometimes they're great. Sometimes they're rude. But mostly they're human and respond to the stresses of dealing with ungrateful addicts as anyone else might. Our policy is to treat everyone well. But there’s sometimes a gap between policy and execution.

I came to accept and realize a long time ago that TLC has – because of its structure – a bad reputation. We're one of the few organizations in the nonprofit world that takes homeless addicts in for no money and houses them, and helps them get back into recovery. And we accept anyone who wants help - with the exception of sex offenders and arsonists. Our only requirement is they have a desire to get clean and sober.

But what happens more than half of the time is that after people are with us for a week or so they realize we're serious. And once they find we're serious, and not a place to simply crash, they get upset and leave. After all, responsibility’s a bitch.

And the parting is sometimes unpleasant. When clients refuse to work, or they don't want to pay the $110 a week service fee, we ask them to go elsewhere. And for many this is so confusing that they react with anger.

For some reason, they believe we should allow them to live with us for free. They shouldn't have to work. We need to treat them a certain way. Some believe they should be allowed to get high. And some become so angry that we have to call the police to remove from the premises.

When people leave under these circumstances they seldom have anything good to say about TLC. They’ll characterize TLC as a dope house. Or they’ll say it's all about the money – not taking into consideration that it costs much more than a hundred and ten dollars for a week at a cheap motel. We get slandered all over the place.

But when they find themselves strung out, broke and homeless again where do they turn? To TLC. Because they know that when they get serious we’ll help them rebuild their lives.