A Long Road to Sanctuary
After five years of struggling, one couple managed to turn an abandoned building into a promising recovery center for the LGBT community.
They’re sitting next to each other in a crack house, holding hands. Their matching engagement rings glisten - the same engagement rings they pawned off five years ago when they decided to buy that crack house.
Over the years, Jared Cashner and James Sanzeri have sold their car, emptied out their retirement funds, and pawned their engagement rings all to keep and maintain a property at the corner of North Andrews Avenue and NW 25 Street.
They called it the Sanctuary House.
Their goal in opening the Sanctuary House of South Florida was to provide a safe and stable environment for men and women in the LGBT community struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.
The Sanctuary House takes in people who want to recover from drug and alcohol abuse and offers them recovery meetings, therapy sessions, organized doctor visits, and a place to call home.
Cashner walks a brick path through a garden leading towards the front of the Sanctuary House. A large tree with branches stretching over the walkway drops bright, pink flowers into a little pond. There are gardens everywhere, practically around every corner. Cashner loves the garden setting. They make the Sanctuary House seem tranquil.
He takes a seat on the porch swing on top of the marble floors and rocks back and forth.
It’s hard to believe that a little less than five years ago, this was not at all how his sanctuary looked.
With cracked floors, broken down walls, and no doors, this abandoned building became a ground for squatters and drug dealers.
"It was a nightmare when we first bought it," Cashner said.
Cashner and Sanzeri purchased the abandoned property in December 2008 and turned it into a promising recovery center. It began with just three clients. It has since grown to a volunteer staff of 13 and up to 41 clients at a time. The Sanctuary House managed to raise $250,000 in 2012.
"We’ve come a long way since the broken down property we first bought," Cashner said.
Wayne Campanele takes a seat next to Cashner on the porch swing. Campanele has been a client at the Sanctuary House since March 2012. He has been in and out of rehab centers since he was 13 years old. This is the first time he feels at home.
"And I didn’t even mean to come here," he said. Campanele’s drug abuse problems got him into trouble. A judge told him that he could either go to jail or enter into a program. Cashner stood up in the courtroom and raised his hand, "I’ll take him," he said.
"I couldn’t let him go to jail," Cashner reminisces. "I know how hard it is, so I had to be the parent with the steel-toed boots."
The minimum stay for a client at the Sanctuary House is four months, but most clients stay an average of a year, according to Cashner.
"This is the best I’ve ever been in," Campanele said. Cashner leans forward and pats Campanele on the shoulder.
"I’m signing Wayne here up for classes tomorrow morning," Cashner said with a wide smile. Campanele is planning to attend beauty school.
"I feel motivated," Campanele said. "Like I have a purpose."
Cashner hopes that every client leaves the Sanctuary House with a job or ready to start school. The most important thing is that they have something waiting for them when they leave.
"If you want to take classes, I will help you," Cashner said. "Don’t worry about money. I will find a way. You believe that."
Cashner stands up and begins walking a brick path around the Sanctuary House, through a fence and more gardens. He shows off the poolside area, situated perfectly under the shade of multiple palm trees and fully furnished. That’s not how it looked five years ago.
In December of 2008, the cracked concrete of a hollowed out pool was buried in the shadows of a large, yellow bulldozer. No trees. No furniture. The city was planning on knocking down what is now Cashner’s sanctuary.
"It was the most unattractive building in the neighborhood," Cashner described it. And he wanted it.
To Cashner, it wasn’t just a crack house; it was a project. It was taking this decrepit, old house, a breeding ground for bad habits, and turning it into a safe place - into a home.
The couple bought their sanctuary before it was destroyed, but it was hardly habitable.
"The place was so bad when we first got it that it took me and James two months with a metal detector to find all the needles buried in the rubble," Cashner said.
They did the repairs themselves and still do to this day along with managing the business end of the Sanctuary House.
"If there’s a leak in the house, it comes down to me and a plumber’s wrench," Cashner said.
It took years to clean every apartment in the house and make all of the repairs. There are still a few repairs, as Cashner points out. A few doors jam and the roof needs work done - everything seems minor in comparison to the first repairs.
"Once we got the first big hurdles out the way, it was easy," Sanzeri said. "We still keep busy, but we’re dedicated and we love it."
Cashner pointed out a building across the road while speaking with SFGN. A few weeks ago, he recognized a drug dealer in the nearby building. As a 49-year-old retired court reporter, Cashner works closely with local police and local courts. He had the man removed from the building by police.
"I had him out of there so quick," Cashner chuckled.