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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Students move off campus to Dismas House

When fifth-year senior Emily Pike was looking for an apartment the summer after studying abroad, she chose an unlikely place, away from any residence hall or Turtle Creek. She decided to live at Dismas House - a non-profit organization that provides transitional housing and support services to men and women who have been recently released from prison or jail, according to the organization's Web site.

Pike's summer-long stay at Dismas became a two-year residency, where she lived and worked in the house as a kitchen manager throughout her latter semesters at Notre Dame.

"I absolutely love living in Dismas House," Pike said. "It has become such an important part of my life here at Notre Dame. Basically it's like living anywhere else in a house of fifteen people. It's a little chaotic, and it's a lot of fun."

The people who live with Pike at Dismas, with the exception of two other students, have either served time in prison or have been sent to the house by a court order in place of prison time. They range from 19-years-old to approximately 55 or 60-years-old, she said.

"We are a re-entry program, and we like to provide a community environment for former offenders in which they can take some time to figure out what it will mean for them to live a substance-free life," Pike said.

Most residents of the Dismas House were drug offenders and could easily relapse into their abusive habits, Pike said.

"[Drug offenders] have the highest rate of recidivism," Pike said.

She attributed this primarily to "environmental factors" in the offenders' circles. When drug users are released from prison, most people they know are other users and traffickers, she said.

"It's very hard not to fall back into that lifestyle," Pike said.

It is "very disheartening, especially at first" when Pike sees Dismas House residents occasionally fall back into their old habits. But she said living in the house for some time has taught her to appreciate the residents that complete a full recovery.

Students can live at Dismas House for $320 per month - although Pike said this amount can often be reduced or waived through work-study. Currently, three students are living at the house, and Pike said this number varies from year to year. Students can apply to live there for a semester, a year or the summer.

At first, arriving at Dismas House can be frightening for students who don't know what to expect from the house dynamics.

"It can be a little bit intimidating at first," Pike said. "You sort of walk in and don't know what to expect, but the truth is that these people are just like anybody else you know."

Like other residents, students living at Dismas House are expected to help run the house. "Everybody has a chore that they have to do," Pike said. "Everybody sort of fights over who gets the last bagel and that sort of thing. For the most part, we all get along really well and have a really good time together."

All of the people living at Dismas House are also expected to eat dinner together at 6:30 p.m., although Pike said this rule could be bent for students. She described these meals as "family time."

If the houseguests consider each other family, the volunteers who pay them regular visits could be the extended family. Fischer Hall, Keenan Hall, Breen-Phillips Hall and Fischer Graduate volunteers come to cook dinner regularly, Pike said.

To Pike, the responsibilities and expectations at Dismas are similar to the ones she would expect to find in any other living situation.

"Basically you are responsible for things that you would be responsible for at other places," Pike said.

As far as rules, Pike said there is no drug use or drinking in the house and to committ such an offense is "pretty serious."

"You cannot use any kind of drugs and you can drink, but you cannot come home if you have been drinking," Pike said.

Pike said most of the residents have curfews, which means that almost everybody is home during the evenings to spend time together playing cards or watching movies.

While some students may be reluctant to live off-campus without their friends, Pike appreciates her off-campus experience and said it has been one of her favorite parts of life at Dismas House because it has kept her attentive to the world outside the Notre Dame community.

"When you're a Notre Dame student, you can become so wrapped up in campus life that you forget that there's something else out there, that the city of South Bend - two miles from campus - is such a radically different place than most of us have ever experienced," Pike said.

The only way to discover that other world is to plunge into it, she said.

"I think we all believe that we have an idea of what that is, but I think until you are there [you do not fully] understand how great the need is with real people in real places with real problems," she said

Dismas House, located at 521 South St. Joseph Street near the Post Office, is currently accepting applications for housing for students. Students can either apply online or come to the house to fill out an application in person, Pike said.

After filling out the application, students will be interviewed and invited to attend a dinner with the residents of the house. Following the dinner, the student's application is presented to a review committee composed of people who do not live in the house. Despite the multiple steps, Pike said the application process is "pretty easy" and "not terribly strenuous."