TRAVERSE CITY — A handful of men from the county's most at-risk population now have a place to call home, for as long as they need it.
Dann's House is not an emergency shelter, a transitional housing facility or a residential treatment program. It's a permanent residence in Garfield Township for people suffering from chronic homelessness and alcoholism.
The home is a project of StonesHouse, a nonprofit that advocates for people with substance abuse and mental health disorders. The organization also runs two recovery residences in Manistee.
Projects like Dann's House are often referred to as wet houses and can be controversial because residents who struggle with alcohol abuse can continue to drink on the premises.
Residents must follow a few basic rules — they pay rent if they are able, no illegal activity is allowed and violence or threats of violence are not tolerated — but alcohol is permitted. There also will be a house manager and volunteers on-site around the clock for supervision and support.
"People are allowed to drink in Dann's House, just like anyone else is allowed to drink in their home," said Karen McCarthy.
McCarthy serves as secretary on the StonesHouse Board of Directors. Dann's House is named for her brother, Dann McCarthy, who died in 2012 from a pulmonary embolism and alcohol intoxication.
McCarthy said her brother suffered from alcoholism and homelessness and would have been a candidate to live at the house that now bears his namesake.
Candidates are referred to StonesHouse through the Traverse City Police Department and Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan's Street Outreach. Those who qualify frequently use emergency services, and many have had repeated stints in jail for intoxication.
"Many of our residents will have tried detox programs and abstinence programs before and it has not worked," McCarthy said.
Garfield Township officials said they received mixed messages about the use of the house and want more clarification from the StonesHouse board.
"The representative approached us on three different occasions and changed what the use was," said Rob Larrea, Garfield Township's director of planning. "It's a little bit difficult to determine what it is and how it may fit in with our community."
Greg Stone, StonesHouse's executive director, said wet houses across the country have helped reduce the amount of taxpayer money spent on emergency services because they provide stability to those who previously lived on the street.
"We know that there's a population that nobody wants. Those are the folks that are chronically homeless and alcoholics," Stone said. "They can't go anywhere, and so they're out on the street. There has to be a place for them."
McCarthy hopes the house will benefit residents and community members alike, but she'll be happy if the only change is breaking the cycle of homelessness.
"I don't want anyone to die on the street," McCarthy said. "We hope to make much more of a difference in the lives of our residents than that, but if that's the only difference it makes, that's a huge difference."