Part 3: Access to treatment: A look at Dawn Farm and the role of treatment centers in the Healing Forest

Derek Wolfe
The Healing Forest Project
3 min readAug 11, 2016


Photo from:

Treatment centers play a crucial role in fostering the Healing Forest.

Just off Stony Creek road, a two-lane road that cuts through the south side of Ypsilanti, a city just a few miles apart from Ann Arbor, there’s a small sign advertising fresh eggs for $3. These eggs are collected by patients of Dawn Farm’s 36-bed residential treatment program. Here, patients, or residents as Clinical Director Jason Schwartz calls them, will likely spend a minimum of three months working to get sober from substance abuse. In his time at Dawn Farm, Schwartz has witnessed the opioid epidemic up close.

“When I started at Dawn Farm in 1994, I think fewer than 10 percent of our admissions were opiate addicts,” Schwartz said. “And today, half of our admissions are opiate addicts and we’re seeing overdoses like I’ve never seen in 22 years and I don’t think Dawn Farm has ever seen in in its entire existence (43 years).”

Dawn Farm is not just a creative name for a treatment center — it’s really a farm. Chickens, llamas, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and a miniature pony can be found behind a large gated field. There are hoop houses for gardening. And of course, there are barns.

Chickens, llamas, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and a miniature pony can be found behind a large gated field.

The connection to nature is all part of Dawn Farm’s plan. Schwartz explained that patients start their chores for the day by 7 a.m. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. with group activities and meetings following the meal. After lunch at noon, there’s another group meeting in the afternoon and two to three days a week, GED classes are also offered and attended during this time. Chores are then done again until 4 p.m. when there is a break.

And then, after dinner around 5:30 p.m., the core mission of Dawn Farm plays out: integrating patients into the recovery community—the subset of the population in recovery.

“Every evening, there are cars streaming in and out of here, people coming here, picking up our residents and taking them to meetings,” Schwartz said.

In order to take a resident to a meetings, a community member must be at least six months sober. Often times, it’s someone who was formerly in a Dawn Farm program who returns the favor down the road during the recovery process.

“A lot of people once they hit that six month point are like, ‘I can’t wait to do that because somebody did that for me when I was here,’ ” Byberg said.

Dawn Farm works diligently to ensure patients don’t wade through the uncharted territory of sobriety alone. Having ride outs to meetings is a crucial chance for residents to begin building their support systems for post-residential treatment life. Ride outs also occur at their 13-bed downtown Ann Arbor residential treatment facility and Spera Recovery Center, which is part of Dawn Farm’s continuum of care.

In many cases, to further cement entry into the recovery community, residents also move into one of Dawn Farm’s 175 beds of transitional housing throughout Ann Arbor. They can stay for up to two years; though according to Schwartz, the average stay is about a year. And some of those residents even go on to become house managers, who, in addition to fulfilling some administrative duties, serve as a mentor for residents.

The rules of living in a transitional home are strict: Daily attendance to meetings and having a job are required.

But, not everyone in recovery in Ann Arbor lives in Dawn Farm’s transitional homes and even for those who do, it’s only temporary. Ann Arbor is home to an expensive housing market, so finding affordable housing remains one of the biggest barriers to remaining in Ann Arbor and staying part of the recovery community.

To read Part 4 on housing, click here.