Sober house for veterans to open

FAIRMONT– Bravo Zulu House, one of the first all-military sober houses in the United States, will soon be opening in Martin County. It will be the first one of seven in the state planned to be open in the next five years.

Tim Murray is the Executive Director of Trinity Sober Homes, which was created 13 years ago by himself and Colonel Father Martin Fleming.

“Since we’ve started we have grown to four homes, 50 beds, and we have served over 450 men and about 100 have been veterans. We have the highest post-treatment recovery rate in the nation at 71 percent,” Murray said.

Trinity Sober Homes owns St. Isidore Farm, located outside New Richland, and three homes in the metro: St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael.

Murray said about two years ago they did some strategic planning during Covid and began looking at who else they should be helping with such a successful model.

“I was surprised to find out that 20 to 30 veterans a day (nationwide) are committing suicide and tens of thousands more struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic street disorder),” Murray said.

According to a Veterans Affairs (VA) study, 90 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD self-acknowledge or self-report abusing drugs and alcohol, Murray said.

In trying to understand that better, Murray said he asked a lot of non-government organizations, as well as the VA, where all of the sobriety programs for veterans were.

“Their answer was, ‘we don’t have any,'” Murray said.

He said that after many frustrating conversations, he decided to do something about it with the help of the Trinity Sober Homes board.

“Out of that was born Bravo Zulu House,” Murray said.

It will be exclusively for male veterans. All of the them will be coming via referrals from treatment centers and Bravo Zulu House will serve as a transitional home for them.

“There’s a recognized gap– there are no providers for this group with huge needs,” said Randy Mortensen, a board member of Trinity Sober Homes.

Murray shared some statistics from the National Institute of Health, which said that three million people went to one of 15,000 treatment centers last years. Of those 3 million people, 12 percent (360,000) were veterans.

“These are all employed people with health insurance… where someone intervened. This diseases affects men and women at about a 2:1 ratio,” Murray said

He said about 20,000 male veterans a month come out of treatment and many of them have no place to go.

“If you want to know where the true ground zero for veteran homelessness is, it’s the day they walk out of treatment with nowhere to go,” Murray said.

Once the idea for Bravo Zulu House was born, Murray started searching for its first location. In January, he embarked on a mission to interview 100 people surrounding the topic to determine the demand of all-military sober housing. This included people in the VA, current and retired military officials, veterans in recovery and people in the mental health business.

It was quickly established that sober housing for veterans was a need so Murray then asked what the perfect sober house would look like. He gathered information and took the core model of spiritual coaching, private rooms and beautiful real estate and added some solutions unique to veterans like mental health counseling, hydroponic farming and “sneaky therapy.”

“When a veteran with PTSD gets assigned an animal, like a dog, and they’re responsible for keeping it alive, they all of a sudden start caring more about their own life,” Murray said.

He said that the addition of animals is one of the reason they wanted to be somewhere rural.

“In the process of interviewing people, I started in Winona all the way over to Worthington, from the Twin Cities, down,” Murray said.

As Murray will oversee the site, he wanted the Bravo Zulu House to be within an hour of New Richland, where he lives and also oversees the Trinity Sober Home there and also within 30 min of VA services.

He said that people in southern Minnesota often don’t get the same resources that those in the metro do. He also pointed out that this band of geography tends to be very pro-military,

Murray shared that they were initially looking at a property in Faribault County but it fell through, which he said they call a “God shot,” meaning it wasn’t supposed to happen.

Then he said Ruth Cyphers, who he had met at a BNI (Business Network International) meeting in Albert Lea, suggested Martin County.

“Along the way, as I was meeting with people form Winona to Worthington, the leadership of veterans in Fairmont and Martin County was unmatched. The military support is out in front and what we bring to the table is operational experts. We’re experts at running sober housing, we’re not experts at being veterans. It really takes a partnership and that’s what we have here in Martin County,” he said

They found property located at 2949 230th Street in the northeast corner of Martin County. The offer has been accepted and they’re scheduled to close on the sale in December.

“We’re not a facility, we’re a home,” Murray said.

He expanded on that, saying that their concept of a sober home is different because someone is welcome to stay as long as they’d like. While the average length of stay in a sober home is six months, Murray said their average length of stay is 18 months though some people have been with them for years.

“These houses have a community that’s safe. They have a community where people genuinely care about each other,” said Mortensen.

The house will have room for 13 veterans and one full-time house manager, though the house is pretty much peer-run. The cost to each inhabitant is $500-$600 a month.

“Our men are required to work or volunteer 30 hours a week,” Murray said.

Mortensen said another big feature is the connections to be made in the community. He said they hope to collaborate with businesses in the community and have been in contact with the Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce.

As for how the construction of the house will be funded, the campaign is at $1.2 million and fundraising has already begun. Murray said they plan to work with local, veteran-owned businesses throughout the process.

“We’re looking for civic, business and political support, not because we’re looking for any public funding, but because donors want to know that this project has broad community support and is a credible 501 (c)(3),” Murray said.

Earlier this week, a presentation on Bravo Zulu House was given at the American Legion Pot 36 in Fairmont. Along with meeting members there, Murray said he’s talked to Fairmont’s mayor and Martin County’s sheriff.

While there is a partnership between Trinity Sober Homes and Bravo Zulu House, the two will have separate budgets and separate board of directors.

“While the underlying models are similar, we think the breadth and demand for Bravo Zulu House is greater so it will take a different skillset than we currently have with Trinity,” Murray said.

The opening of Bravo Zulu House is a three phase process. Murray said phase one is raising awareness and creating a local advisory and implementation team. Phase two involves fundraising and as part of that, a VIP event will be held in Fairmont on Nov. 16. Finally, phase three will be construction and staffing of the facility, which is expected to start in the spring with an anticipated opening date of Nov. 2024.


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