Reaction to Sister's Path mixed

Sonja Kosler Staff Writer On Monday about 30 people gathered upstairs in City Hall to learn more about a chemical dependency treatment center planned for New York Mills at the Mills Motel site. ShareHouse and Sisters Path Executive Director, Bill...

Sonja Kosler

Staff Writer

On Monday about 30 people gathered upstairs in City Hall to learn more about a chemical dependency treatment center planned for New York Mills at the Mills Motel site.

ShareHouse and Sisters Path Executive Director, Bill Lopez; Director of Operations, Anna Johnson; and Program Director, Julie McCroskey gave an overview of the project and then fielded questions for nearly two hours.

Lopez explained he had been approached by Otter Tail County social services personnel to bring a Sisters Path type program to Otter Tail County. Sisters Path operates in Fargo, serving pregnant women or single women with children. One of the main goals of the special chemical dependency program is to keep women and their children together while the women work toward recovery.


The Fargo program has a relatively high success rate with no negative reports from the community, Lopez said.

ShareHouse had initially considered buying the old hospital at the Elders Home for the program, but Lopez feels the Mills Motel will better match the needs of the program. The Stepping Stones program - a tentative name for the Mills facility - would serve between 12 and 14 women over the age of 18 and their children. The goal is to offer the best chemical dependency treatment program to those interested in recovery.

Strict criteria and supervision

Under strict criteria the residents could have no history of sexual crimes or of violence. Lopez says it is important to create a safe environment for the residents and staff alike. Residents would be monitored 24-hours a day with on-call professional staff available.

The women residents are given much needed structure in their lives. In Fargos Sisters Path apartment building, the women get their kids off to school and day care and then attend a morning meditation and community meeting. Support group meetings held throughout the day include those dealing with parenting, co-dependency, spirituality, dual diagnosis, and chemical addiction groups appropriate to each individuals level of dependency.

Addiction counselors also work with kids groups so they can learn how to be kids again while their moms are learning to be the parents.

McCroskey says the women they currently see are being treated for addiction to alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and pain pills. Sisters Path does not treat people involved in the manufacture of methamphetamine. They are usually doing jail time, says Lopez.

Visitors to Stepping Stone residents would be screened with certain individuals not being allowed to visit at all. He stated that in the two year history of Sisters Path there have been no police calls other than to investigate a prior domestic dispute. There has been no violence in the house.


This was echoed in a written statement from Police Chief Brian Nelson who toured ShareHouse and Sisters Path and extended an investigation of the facilities to include the Fargo Police Department call log and interviews with staff of the Probation Division of the Department of Corrections.

Results of investigation by Chief Nelson

Nelson states, In conclusion, during the course of my investigation, I did not discover any reason for concern about public safety issues stemming from the presence of a Sisters Path facility in NY Mills. As Chief of Police of a small department with limited resources, I have a particularly strong interest in any entity, which may create a drain on those resources. Originally, I was apprehensive that such a facility would tax my departments manpower and its other resources by the possible introduction of certain unsavory elements into our community but now I believe those apprehensions to be unfounded.

It is my opinion that ShareHouse and Sisters Path are well-run programs and their presence in our community would not create a disproportionate amount of calls for law enforcement services.

However, nothing in this letter should be construed to mean that I am personally endorsing ShareHouse or Sisters Path. Nor am I taking a stand against them. My role in this consideration is to merely share with the community my observations and conclusions after conducting an informal background investigation on the operation and reputation of ShareHouse and Sisters Path.

Lopez assured people in attendance, We are not a fly-by-night operation. We have 30 years experience in developing effective residential treatment programs. He also welcomed questions, saying: Its your community; you need to ask the right questions to know whats going on.

Questions from the community (responses from Lopez)

About 6-8 people at the Monday night meeting asked most of the questions and were obviously uncomfortable with the thought of a chemical dependency treatment center in their midst.


Where will the people come from?

Primarily Otter Tail County, but they could also be from Becker or Wadena. There is consolidated funding through the counties and the state.

Do people come because they want to or because theyre referred?

They come through proper referral channels. After a chemical dependency assessment they are referred by social service agencies. Entry into a program is very rarely voluntary. Youre talking about taking away their best friend (the drug) the focus of their life.

What about school age children learning disabilities and behavioral problems?

The children are no different than anybody else. The children are screened as well as the mothers.

How would these children fit into a small town? They would have a stigma and be ostracized. Other kids wouldnt be allowed to visit or hang with them.

Again, these kids are just like everyone else. They do have visitors and even sleepovers. Theyre not ashamed of where they live. If necessary, we can talk to the other childrens parents.


I dont think our school has the infrastructure to deal with these children.

The school superintendent didnt really have a concern and welcomed the opportunity. He didnt see it taxing the school.

We have worked together as a community to keep out the riff-raff. There is no hospital with an emergency room; the location is on one of our busiest streets. How is this going to benefit New York Mills?

I dont see it hurting. The program would bring 12-15 new professional jobs to the community. We have met with the clinic people and they saw no problem. I have a dedicated interest in helping these women and children. If I felt we wouldnt be a benefit to the community, we wouldnt be here. Put faith in our expertise.

What about health problems? Do any of them have HIV or AIDS?

This is not something we can disclose because of confidentiality. We do screen for this and refer to the appropriate place.

There is already a daycare shortage in town.

We may have to establish an on-site day care system.


Is this going to lower property values?

It should have no effect at all.

Do you pay taxes?

We have non-profit income tax status but pay sales taxes and all other taxes. We could ask the city to waive property taxes but we have not. The budget includes payment of property taxes.

What would stop it?

Funding and licensure. I care about the community and the people who work for me. Im going to prove we will be good stewards in the community.

Final comments (unidentified, unless otherwise noted)

People feel this is being shoved down our throats. We need another meeting to show that maybe 85 percent of the people are against this.


Mayor Clarksean: Point is we can have another meeting. Its been in the paper; its been talked around town. You have to listen to his answers. The City cannot stop this. Its not up to us to make that decision. This is commercial zoning. There is no ordinance against this. I have no problem saying I am for it. Its going to be an asset to the community.

My 21-year-old daughter overheard some of this discussion and was appalled at the narrow mindedness. Were put on this earth to help others. I have children and grandchildren around and from everything youve said I think youre going to do a good job. We need to open our minds and our hearts. We should not be attacking this idea.

Fargo and West Fargo have all kinds of resources we are a town of 1,500 people we dont have the resources. We are not a large enough community to take care of these people.

Were gonna crawl into our little box in New York Mills and hide there.

Bottom line

There is an agreement in principle for the ShareHouse/Sisters Path/Stepping Stones to purchase the Mills Motel for the purpose of establishing a residential chemical dependency treatment program to serve pregnant women and single mothers along with their children. Otter Tail County officials have identified a need for this type of program.

The City of New York Mills does not have any ordinance or zoning regulations in place to stop the project.

The facilities operating in Fargo have had no negative impact on their surrounding community. Chief Brian Nelson investigated and found no reason for public safety concerns.

Some people feel the presence of a residential chemical dependency treatment program in New York Mills was kept a secret even though it has been covered several times in the newspaper.

Mayor Clarksean and Bill Lopez have offered to hold another informational meeting. A date and time has not yet been set, however Mayor Clarksean will see that the meeting is well publicized in advance.

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