Transitional housing plan discussion gets heatedAn informational meeting about a proposed transitional housing program in Warren Township drew a crowd of about 90 people last Wednesday night.
An informational meeting about a proposed transitional housing program in Warren Township drew a crowd of about 90 people last Wednesday night.
The proposed facility is located at 881 Highway 65, in Warren Township. The property is adjacent to the Hillcrest neighborhood in Roberts.
While Wednesday’s meeting was meant to be informational, the St. Croix County Board of Adjustments will hold a public hearing at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Government Center, 1101 Carmichael Road, Hudson. Agendas are posted on the county website and in newspapers. The Board of Adjustments will need to grant a special exception permit for the house to be used as a transitional living facility.
On Wednesday night, a panel of representatives from the Salvation Army and Wisconsin Department of Corrections presented their proposal. A Salvation Army client and a neighbor of a half-way house also had chances to speak. Following the presentations, people were allowed to ask questions of the panel, Village of Roberts President Willard Moeri and Roberts Police Chief Dan Burgess through note cards.
The house, owned by KP Real Estate, would host up to four male felons for approximately 90 days each.
Ideally, the DOC tries to place men with family or friends, but that’s not possible for some. Some of the felons are released from incarceration with nothing, not even clothing, said Anne Cartman, Wisconsin Department of Corrections field supervisor.
They’d be convicted of crimes like burglary, fraud, drunken driving and others, she said. No sex offenders would be allowed in the facility. Some may be first time offenders while others could be repeat offenders.
“It depends on the situation,” Cartman said.
In a follow-up interview after the meeting, Duana Bremer of the Salvation Army said they would not be taking violent offenders at the Warren facility.
The majority will be originally from St. Croix County. Those from neighboring counties would be required to return to their own communities once their stay at the TLP ends, she said.
By definition, TLPs are not staffed 24 hours a day. Half-way houses are, and the higher-risk offenders will be placed at those facilities, Cartman said.
The residents will be monitored through an ankle bracelet system. The range will initially be 35 feet, with 150 feet maximum, Cartman said. The bracelets do not have GPS, she said.
Should the offender get out of range or tamper with the bracelet, an alarm is triggered at a monitoring company in Madison, who will notify law enforcement.
Because the facility is technically in Warren Township, St. Croix County Sheriff’s department will be dispatched, Roberts Police Chief Dan Burgess told the crowd. It’s likely that the county would ask the RPD for mutual aid in those situations, he thought.
Residents will need to log out or in each time they leave or return to the facility.
The house and outbuildings will be checked a minimum of three times a day, but likely more than that. The Salvation Army will be providing all the residents’ transportation.
“We’re not going to be pulling up to the facility and honking the horn,” Bremer said. “We’ll be checking the facility.”
They won’t be allowed to have vehicles, cell phones or visitors. They’ll be tested for drug and alcohol use on a “consistent and on-going basis,” according to a Salvation Army document.
While the men stay there, they’ll receive education on job skills, drug and/or alcohol counseling, independent living skills and other education based on their needs. Volunteers would be welcome to teach some classes.
The men would have jobs, mostly in Hudson. The home site was chosen because of its proximity to Hudson and its “rural” location, Bremer said.
Money they make would be applied to rent, paying fines and fees and saving for a place to rent on their own, Bremer said.
An offense doesn’t need to be criminal for the residents to be re-incarcerated, Cartman said. Even disrespectful behavior to the staff will send them back.
“They don’t want to go back. They don’t want to go back to prison,” Cartman said.
According to statistics from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a free market think tank, 67 percent of offenders in re-entry programs successfully complete the programming, compared to 45 percent that successfully compete parole under government-run supervision.
There are TLPs in Rice Lake and Eau Claire already, but there is a need in this area, Cartman said.
The DOC has been trying for about two years to get a TLP in this area, said Gary Stinson, assistant regional chief of the DOC. Madison has given the office money to use for the TLP, and the Salvation Army won the bid. The Salvation Army will cover any additional costs. Because the funding is for a four-bed facility, the DOC doesn’t expect the TLP to expand, Stinson said.
Stinson, admitting that his opinion is biased because of his job, said he lives very near the TLP in Rice Lake and hasn’t had any problems.
“These are people who need assistance, and we want to be there to guide them,” he said.
When the residents have a place to live and guidance, it allows them to work toward self improvement, Bremer said.
Ken Lowrie, a former client of the Salvation Army, addressed the crowd on that point, prior to the question-answer session.
He admitted he has an extensive record – including multiple prison sentences. He comes from a broken home and started doing drugs when he was 13.
“I just lived with the fact that this is my life,” he said. Each time he left jail, he thought he’d do something different. Each time, he said, he didn’t know how to change his life.
He moved to Ellsworth after being released from prison one time. “I got very close with the police department and district attorney,” he said. That led to another incarceration.
Then his daughter was born. He said he knew he needed to do something different. After having trouble finding a place to stay, the district attorney suggested he try Grace Place, a Salvation Army homeless shelter in Somerset, and he approached Bremer.
“She was very reluctant,” he said. “She didn’t know if she could help someone like me.”
The Salvation Army accepted him, and he stayed at Grace Place for 90 days. He got his driver’s license for the first time in 25 years, got a job and started paying taxes. He also has custody of his daughter.
“This was all because I had a stable environment,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done if Somerset had closed its doors on me.”
He told the crowd that most people who are incarcerated want to change.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there who wants to be like that,” he said.
“My main thing here is, just give ‘em a place,” he said. “Where would I be if they slammed the doors?”
Neighbors of the proposed facility have been actively campaigning against it. A petition has been circulating.
In an earlier interview, some neighbors expressed concern about losing their neighborhood’s atmosphere, the safety of their children, decreased property values and more.
During Wednesday’s meeting several wrote questions asking how the facility would benefit the community.
“It will make the community safer,” Cartman answered. “People will be supervised at a higher rate than living at a hotel or motel.”
There are already felons living in the community, Cartman said. According to Wisconsin Department of Correction data, 26 offenders currently live in the Roberts ZIP code (54023), which goes beyond the village limits. Four are sex offenders and eight are convicted felons.
Someone at the meeting asked how they would know who was at the TLP.
There won’t be community notifications when someone moves in or out of the house, Cartman said.
However, the facility will be under the guidance of an advisory board, Bremer said. Community members, DOC and Salvation Army staff will be part of it.
The state will track outcomes, Bremer said. If the Salvation Army isn’t meeting its goals, they will no longer have a contract.
Another question asked was why the Salvation Army doesn’t use the house to help a family.
“The need for families is already being met,” Bremer said. Throughout seven years, the Salvation Army has provided more than 51,000 nights to people – some of whom are felons – in St. Croix County, Bremer said.
“The Salvation Army has a long history of working with felons,” Bremer said.
Burgess addressed the crowd generally.
“I share in the frustration,” Burgess said. “I want to help people in need but I want to protect everybody.”
He guessed that they wouldn’t see a dramatic increase in calls.
“You can definitely be assured on my part that we’ll put more police protection in,” he said. Staffing probably wouldn’t increase to all day, every day.
While the village board and police have fielded a lot of questions, the facility is technically in Warren Township.