Faith House idea withdrawn by Salvation ArmyA proposal to house four felons at Faith House to transition them from prison to a community has been withdrawn.
By: Laura Kruse, New Richmond News
A proposal to house four felons at Faith House to transition them from prison to a community has been withdrawn.
Faith House, owned by the New Richmond United Methodist Church and located on Second Street, has been used as a transitional house for families in the past.
The proposal would have housed four male felons for approximately 90 days at Faith House, under the supervisor of the Salvation Army and Wisconsin Department of Corrections. The Salvation Army has been awarded a grant to help with the costs of the program.
It was clear that neighbors and church members weren’t comfortable with the proposal, leading to the Salvation Army withdrawing it, said Duana Bremer, of the Salvation Army.
“It was the fact that they really didn’t want it in the community,” Bremer said. She said she told church leaders that she was pulling the request on Thursday, a day after an informational meeting at UMC.
An e-mail was sent from the church on Friday afternoon, announcing the decision.
Prior to the Salvation Army withdrawing the request, the UMC congregation would have voted on the proposal. That meeting was set for later this month.
The Salvation Army and DOC will continue to look for a new place for the program. Because of the bid application, the site has to be in St. Croix County.
As of press time, it wasn’t clear if the Salvation Army would renew a lease at Faith House with UMC in the future.
Neighbors and church members made their opinions clear during an informational listening session on Wednesday, June 30, at UMC. A panel, including Bremer; Anne Cartman, DOC field supervisor; Mark Samelstad, New Richmond Police chief; and church leaders, talked about different aspects of the proposal with approximately 50 people in attendance.
Faith House opened in 1997 as the only emergency shelter in St. Croix County at that time, housing one family at a time for up to 60 days. Grace Place in Somerset opened in 2002, meeting the needs of emergency shelter.
In 2006, Faith House was converted into a transitional house for families. Then, in 2007, a $100,000 grant made transitional help for 30 families per year available. People on probation and parole were living at Faith House during those times, but that fact wasn’t advertised, Bremer said.
Now a need not being met in the area is for young single men, from Polk, Pierce and St. Croix counties, in transition. The DOC tries to place men in transition back with family or friends, but that’s not always possible, Cartman said.
“They are people in our community who are forgotten,” Bremer said.
Most men at Faith House would have been convicted of crimes involving drugs or alcohol. No one with a sex crime related offense would have been allowed at Faith House. They would have been supervised in person and through monitoring devices. Since felons lose basic rights, things like search warrants wouldn’t be required should there have been a problem. Monitoring devices wouldn’t be equipped with GPS.
The supervision – and chance for success – would be greater at Faith House than at motels where those men are currently placed, Cartman said.
“If they’re not at a facility, they’ll be at a hotel ... but they’re still in the community,” Cartman said.
Samelstad refused to give his personal opinion on the issue. Instead, he told the crowd what the police department could do to protect the neighborhood.
“I’m not going to tell you there’s never going to be trouble at the house,” he said. But the officers would know who was at the house, and could be on the scene within minutes, he later said. The NRPD would have some control over who is admitted to that house.
After the panel presentations, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. Those with questions were asked to write them on a card to be answered by the panel only. Following period of the meeting, attendees could make short, three-minute, respectful statements.
Things got heated during the final two segments of the meeting.
Some people were obviously opposed to the proposal, citing concerns about property values, children, safety, crime and noise.
One neighbor, who said he circulated a flyer in the area about the proposal, was outspoken.
“It seems easy to place a house next to us when you can walk away,” he said to the panel. He then asked who he would bring litigation against, should his family’s rights be violated.
Another neighbor, who appeared to be vision impaired, said she and her husband asked about felons before buying their house. They weren’t told about Faith House, she said.
“I can’t tell if it’s my husband next door, much less which felon,” she said, holding a white cane.
Another neighbor spoke to a point made during the panel presentations, that the felons are the forgotten ones.
“‘Forgotten’ to me is Will, Joe and Ben, my sons,” he said. “It takes one time for these guys... to change my life forever.”
While the majority of the speakers seemed against the proposal, a few spoke in favor of it and the men who would benefit.
One man drew applause from supporters, saying, “What I do know is Faith House has been here several years and I’ve never had a problem. There’s been more problems with another (rental) house across the street. Not everybody here is against this proposal. Think of Christ who forgave a robber on the cross.”
Pastor Alan George addressed concerns about church membership with felons nearby. Their partnership with Faith House has been welcomed by the congregation, he said.
“Many Faith House residents are offenders and in recovery. Our church opened its hearts, its doors, its programs to these families,” George said.