Have you ever pawned your wedding rings to pay someone else’s electric bill? Have you ever sold your beloved ’02 Thunderbird to house the homeless? Have you ever exhausted your retirement cash to continue your community service? There are two guys in Wilton Manors who can answer yes to those questions and have pawned their rings twice to keep 116 NW 25th Street afloat. In a town dedicated to dazed relaxation, there is much to admire in Jared Cashner, a retired court stenographer and son of a Kentucky coal miner, and James Sanzeri, a strikingly handsome 21 year old local man wise beyond his age, who have been a couple for two and one half years and are the founders and operators of the two year old Sanctuary House, a transitional residence providing sober and safe living for gay men in recovery.
Sanctuary House, one of the oldest structures in Wilton Manors and recently an abandoned crack house, is now a sprawling and comfortable collection of buildings on an acre of land that is divided into apartments each housing two or three men in shared bedrooms with common kitchens, baths, living space, gardens and a pool. Jared and James, who operate Sanctuary House without any other staff, live on the filled-to-capacity premises and are constantly forced to turn away applicants due to lack of space. (The size of the property would allow for the construction of several additional apartments should funds ever materialize.)
Jared and James are committed to helping gay men who are ready to return to independence and to providing them with structure, stability and the tools and confidence needed to live a life without alcohol and drug dependency. The minimum stay is three months and there are rules.
How and why would a retired stenographer and his very young partner, neither or whom have formal training as counselors or care-givers, establish a vibrant place like Sanctuary House? Jared explains “We had a friend who was down and out but willing to do some work for us. We were hesitant about inviting him to live in our home but rented him an apartment on NW 25th Street. He knew other men who had been through addiction and asked us if we could help them as well. We kept renting more space. That is how it began. Now we are partners with the Wilton Manors police, and with the local community service agencies, and with our residents’ case managers.”
Sanctuary House has rapidly grown by word of mouth among gay men needing assistance, and is such a desirable place to be that some straight men have falsely claimed to be gay trying to gain admission.
Jared and James approached the owners of the building, Steven and Andy Fisk of CitiFirst Mortgage of Hollywood, who helped them acquire it. Jared is grateful to them for their assistance. “They told us to give them whatever down payment we could manage and to make whatever monthly payments we could manage. They are extremely understanding about our circumstances, and they – and the whole neighborhood – are delighted with the transformation of the property.”
Some additional prying was needed to get these self-effacing men to discuss their personal lives that are the skeleton keys to Sanctuary House.
Jared fell into drug addiction following the hospitalization that led to his early retirement, and eventually was tried before a judge for whom he had once worked. She gave him back his life and he has kept his promise to stay clean. “I grew up in a very poor family. One of eleven kids. My mother was a stern woman and I guess the way I run this place makes me a lot like her. I’m strict about our rules. Mandatory 11PM curfew. No drugs or alcohol or sex on the premises. Random and regular testing. Group meetings. But my mother always put in an extra half acre of garden just to grow food to give away. She made us work that garden and taught us the value of helping those who need it.”
James, who grew up in Sunrise, lost a brother to addiction and has himself been through recovery twice. He met Jarod through mutual friends and would not take no for an answer when Jarod repeatedly refused to date him. He soon brought him home to meet the folks.
Sanctuary House is at a critical juncture. James is its constant operations manager and Jared who works an additional job as a package courier is close to exhaustion and not without health problems. They receive no government funds but are in line for a HOPWA (Housing Opportunities For Persons With AIDS) grant if they can make some required improvements to the property. Their small board of directors includes police office James Nash who has been generous with his time, sometimes substituting for them as manager. (James and Jared have taken only one vacation, an overnight to a campground.) Attorney George Castrataro is providing pro bono help with the paperwork needed for 501c3 certification. Every piece of furniture, all the cabinetry, tiling and plantings are donations.
A brief tour of Sanctuary House with introductions to a few of its happy and hopeful residents will teach you the deeper meaning of gay pride which goes beyond waving rainbow flags to combat inequality and has more to do with the personal fight against the private demons that can ruin our lives were it not for men like Jared and James, who are not complaining when they say “We are the hammer and nails of this place, but we need some serious help.” In this season of Thanksgiving, please consider Sanctuary House. They won’t mind your visit and five minutes with these men will leave you eager to support their great work.
For more information, www.SanctuaryHouse.info