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Willmar Planning Commission OKs permit for transitional housing program for men

WILLMAR — The Willmar Planning Commission has approved a conditional use permit for LifeRight Outreach of Alexandria, a non-profit organization that plans to operate a faith-based, drug-free and alcohol-free transitional residential housing program for men in a former north side nursing home.

LifeRight Executive Director Mark Foss, formerly of Hancock and a former drug dealer and addict, said he hopes to begin the program sometime after the purchase agreement of the former 32-room Infinia nursing home, 500 Russell St. N.W., is signed May 1.

Through generous donations and a miracle price, the building is being purchased without debt. Foss said many renovations and upgrades are in the planning stages.

“Our goal is to run a first-class facility both inside and out and add value to the local community,’’ he said. “I believe we have accomplished this at our Alexandria location and plan to duplicate it here in Willmar.’’

LifeRight provides transitional housing for men who are recovering from alcohol dependency or chemical dependency and life issues. The program is committed to delivering strong Christian leadership, connecting residents with educational opportunities and community resources, and providing sober housing in a community setting.

The facility has a zero tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol and does not accept individuals with a sexual predatory background.

Foss, a drug dealer and addict for more than 30 years, said he conquered his addictions in April 2002, and said his desire for drugs or alcohol never returned after he surrendered his life to Christ.

Foss went to prison in 2002, was released in the middle of 2004 and started the program in Alexandria in December 2007. LifeRight is a licensed group residential housing program. Jay Jenson, also a former drug addict, joined later as director of ministry.

In unanimously approving the permit, the Planning Commission requested LifeRight submit a site plan for additional parking if current parking space becomes inadequate. Also, LifeRight must provide a copy of rules that residents follow to live there; and the program must meet all local, state and federal rules and regulations at all times.

Megan DeSchepper, city planner, said the conditional use permit was required because the zoning ordinance has no listing for the transitional housing-type use proposed by LifeRight in any zoning district. The property is zoned R-2 for one- and two-family residences.

DeSchepper said the minutes of the Planning Commission’s action will go to the City Council as part of the council’s consent agenda.

The permit was approved after the Planning Commission took testimony from some of the two dozen people attending a public hearing Wednesday evening in the council chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building.

One man spoke on behalf of some older neighborhood couples who were concerned about safety and the possible effect on property values.

Otherwise, testimony was overwhelmingly in support of LifeRight, including people who had gone through similar programs or who had children that had gone through programs or wished they had had a program like this when their child was having problems.

Also speaking in favor were representatives of a local steering committee that was formed to bring a program to Willmar for teenagers. The committee approached Foss about bringing his program for men to Willmar.

In an interview, Foss said the steering committee’s proposal “kind of blew me away. But at the same time, I know it was the power of Great God.’’

By opening the Willmar program, Foss said LifeRight can open one of its houses in Alexandria to women. Foss said approval of the permit was awesome.

“There were a lot of people there and 95 percent was all positive. Even though one that had some concerns I believe went away feeling good about the situation,’’ said Foss.

He said financial support from churches and businesses is unbelievable.

“I’m really looking forward to becoming part of the community and being an asset to the community and thankful for their prayers and support,’’ he said.

Foss said LifeRight sets no time limit on clients’ participation because some take longer than others to get to where the program needs them to be.

“LifeRight offers a structured Christ-centered environment for people ready to make a positive change in their lives. We want to wrap our arms around them and show them God’s love, but also give them the tough love needed to be disciplined and get their lives back on track,’’ said Foss.

“Things like a place to live, driver’s license, being able to fill out an employment application, are just of few of the things we take for granted, but can be large obstacles to someone coming out of treatment or the correctional system,’’ said Foss.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150