Recovering heroin user: ‘I just want to give back’

A Killer Among Us

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There is a new chapter in the incredible story of one man’s journey from heroin and homelessness to recovery and redemption.

“I just want to give back,” said Tyler Trowbridge, 34, of Grand Rapids. “I just want to do some good and show people that people deserve a second chance or a third chance or a fourth chance.”

Trowbridge and his army of supporters have a new mission: Raising funds to build a different kind of residential rehab facility in Kent County. This weekend, they are holding their first fundraiser for the residential rehab community named Dirt City Sanctuary, or DCS


Team Tyler organized a pop can drive at Forest Hills Foods on Cascade Road SE in Grand Rapids. On Sunday, participants dropped off cans and made donations. In all, the event raised $1,655.

“We’re going to do our best to kind of build a new community around people (in recovery),” explained Trowbridge. “People like me, we burned all of our bridges, we have no one.”

That changed for Trowbridge when an old high school classmate spotted him on 24 Hour News 8 last February in a story about heroin’s homeless. 

“When I saw him on the news and he was in such rough shape, I knew with enough love and support, we could, whatever barriers there were, we could get over them,” said Stacy Peck, who graduated with Trowbridge in 2003 from Grant High School in Newaygo County.

After seeing Trowbridge on TV begging for change and shooting up drugs in a restaurant bathroom, Peck tracked down her old classmate to offer him help and support.

Trowbridge, who had been on heroin for 15 years, was ready to give recovery another try. Peck put out a call to her network of former classmates, family and friends, including Wendy Botts, who had lost her son, Jordan Blaauw, to an opioid overdose a year ago. 

Blaauw and Trowbridge are the inspirations behind the creation of Dirt City Sanctuary.


“It just feels like it’s meant to be” Botts said of the plans to build a new rehab program. “We know we’ll face obstacles, but so far everything – filing our (non-profit) paperwork, meeting the right people – it’s just been easy, everything’s fallen into place.”

Botts, Peck and Trowbridge are building a team of experts to turn the project into reality.

They are currently searching for a location in Kent County for the Dirt City Sanctuary, which will have 10-15 acres of land. 

“The homes are going to look like farmhouses,” said Peck. “Everyone will have their own studio apartments and the main floor is going to be communal space, and there’s always going to be a person on that main floor whether it be a volunteer or a staff member.” 

Community involvement will be a critical component.

The residents will learn new work skills and perform service projects in the community for people in need.


Additionally, DSC will recruit community volunteers to spend time with residents.

“Basically, a big part of it is community because you can give somebody a place to live, and you can give them a job, and treatment, but then what?” Trowbridge said. “What else do they have?”

DSC will recruit community volunteers to spend time with residents, as they work to make new connections and rebuild their lives.

“I think to stay clean and maintain that, I think you need to have these relationships, these people who you want to spend time with who are not using,” explained Peck.

The project is incredibly ambitious, but Trowbridge, Peck and Botts have already proven a formidable team.

Trowbridge has been clean from heroin for 11 weeks, has an apartment and a job. He’s gotten back on methadone, a drug that eases withdrawal from opioids and restores chemical balance and stability to the brains of long-time users.

Regarding the cost to build Dirt City Sanctuary, Peck says the best estimate right now is $10 million.

“Right now we are speaking with seed investors and we have a whole team of amazing people,” Peck said. “The community wants to help. Right now is just the time for something like this, we need this.”

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