‘Deeper, Stranger Level’: Managers of Planned McKenna Housing Facility Decry Misinformation

By Eric Rosane / erosane@yelmonline.com
Posted 8/21/20

Management with Fresh Start Housing LLC, a for-profit transitional program that operates sober housing in five counties, took questions from county council members and one community member Wednesday …

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‘Deeper, Stranger Level’: Managers of Planned McKenna Housing Facility Decry Misinformation


Management with Fresh Start Housing LLC, a for-profit transitional program that operates sober housing in five counties, took questions from county council members and one community member Wednesday morning during a presentation at the Pierce County Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

Questions poised by the committee and one critic of the program’s planned facility in McKenna, Joni Jensen, 62, of Lake Lawrence, were limited to broader discussion on the operation of sober living facilities and potential public risks during the video conferencing meeting.

Fresh Start Housing is looking to open a transitional sober-living facility in McKenna in the old Nisqually Valley Care Center building located on the corner of 95th Avenue and 357th Street.

The 140-bed facility is expected to open sometime this fall. Tenants will pay around $500 a month for services and be required to stay sober as they transition back into regular society.

Tim Timmer, managing member of Fresh Start, said their goal of attending the meeting was to clear the air on some of the misconceptions surrounding their operations. Timmer was present with John Green, also a managing member.

“A lot of signs that have been put up by some of the local businesses in town say ‘stop the 10-acre homeless encampment that’s coming.’ Maybe we start with that: We didn’t purchase this building and fund all the modifications that we’re doing to it to have people living outside of it in tents. That would go counter to what we accomplish,” he said.

“We do consider ourselves a stop-gap to homelessness because individuals that come to us are usually coming from some sort of rehab facility, detox facility and that is who we house.”

Timmer said while a number of level 1 sex offenders may apply, Fresh Start Housing takes into consideration the broader context in which the applicant will live. Fresh Start is also aware of their proximity to a park, he said.

Low level sex offenders, which include level 1 offenders, are deemed the lowest possible risk to the community or to reoffend. According to Dan Davis, a criminal investigator with the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, level 1 and 2 sex offenders do not have restrictions on where they live, though they are required to be listed on the sex offender registry.

“Both John and I are parents and we respect that this is a community. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re not mindful of that as we come in. We most certainly are,” Timmer said.

While some community members have questioned the lack of resources surrounding the facility, Timmer said one of the attractions of the property was that it was so insulated and self-contained.

“Once again, these are high-functioning adults. They have jobs and are independent just like the rest of us. They don’t require nursing staff or a prison warden. It doesn’t work like that,” Timmer said.

The estimated 12 staff members that will work with the residents at the facility will likely live within the facility, Green said. The number of staff members on site could be higher than a dozen though.

Toward the end of the meeting, council member Derek Young left the meeting after he and council members Pam Roach and Marty Campbell repeatedly warned council members Jim McCune and Jensen to keep the conversation on the topic of broader public safety.

“At this point, this hearing appears to be little more than a pretext to drag a particular project through the mud and have them answer for it in an extrajudicial way,” Young said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this committee to be having this kind of hearing. It does not appear to be about public safety, it appears to be about a particular project that is about a right that people have under not only our constitution, but under our state law.”

As he left, Young added that he felt that McCune had exposed the county to legal risk through the process.

Jeff Cox, the council’s senior legal analyst, said he thought Young’s points were worth considering. He later told McCune that the preferable approach for more specific inquiries would be to have the community host a meeting and have county officials out to answer and ask questions.

Unfounded Claims for Fresh Start

Ever since news broke of Fresh Start coming to McKenna, Timmer and Green say they’ve had to combat an onslaught of misinformation spread through social media and a “harassment campaign” peddled by local businesses.

“We have been dog-whistled with threats of violence and property destruction, we have been chronically harassed by callers with no genuine interest in what we have to say, we have been embroiled in conspiracy theories involving locally disliked politicians and ultra national, globalist organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organizations), and we have been accused of falsifying information on permitting applications,” Fresh Start Housing staff wrote in one post.

Some of the interactions with people who stop by the facility have even been threatening in nature.

“We’ve had people pull into the parking lot, saying ‘people around here don’t call the police’ and that we ‘better watch our backs,’” Green later told The Nisqually Valley News.

While staff from the sober treatment program were invited earlier this month to a public meeting at McKenna Park, the staff said they don’t feel compelled to attend a bad-faith meeting that would only devolve into a shouting match.

Green said it’s often normal to receive some form of pushback from the community at the start, but the level of skepticism and blatant conspiracies that have been thrown at them are a “deeper, stranger level.”

He added that he understands why some people don’t like what they do, but it’s important to criticize them for what they are and not for what they aren’t.

More facts on the new facility can be found on a new Facebook page managed by Fresh Start staff here: https://www.facebook.com/Fresh-Start-Housing-McKenna-Property-Facts-100105661820023.


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