NetWork says community key to recovery

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A newly opened recovery facility for ex-offenders and former drug abusers is located at 3514 14th Ave. S. on the southern edge of Powderhorn Park. Owned and operated by a new start-up nonprofit called NetWork for Better Futures, the former apartment complex has 18 units and 14 current residents who, given jobs and a place to hang their hats, are being returned to the community.

“This notion of community—of both housing and work—is key,” NetWork director Steve Thomas told Southside Pride last week. Six out of 17 at the recovery facility meet the criteria of long-term homelessness, which is defined, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, as “lacking a permanent place to live continuously for a year or more or at least four times in the last three years.”

The NetWork offers recovery the old-fashioned way, providing temporary jobs—through a work crew or a courier service—to provide income and to build a work history and references with time off to look for more permanent employment. Residents are required to use a portion of their wages to pay their own rent. Meanwhile, there is counseling and mentoring by on-site NetWork staff.

“The longest we want to house anyone is 24 months,” Thomas said. “ These guys have to want to change. We have to see some level of motivation. We have to see some success,” Thomas said.

“There are basically two large groupings new to Minneapolis: The Network and Emerge,” said local ex-offender advocate Guy Gambill. “I think both are essentially good things. However, [I wonder] how do folks starting out ever get a leg up in such a structured environment? I do also know many good people working in these organizations [The Network] so I have mixed feelings,” Gambill said.

“We’re still new,” said Thomas. “We’re not sure how many successes or drop-outs we’ll have.”

Coming directly from correctional or treatment facilities, residents are expected to follow the rules and respect boundaries. According to Thomas, criminal activity is not tolerated. Four of the Powderhorn property residents have already achieved what the facility calls “ full membership,” a designation which means a man has obtained employment, a bank account, the things that functioning citizens all have. Residents are insured through Minnesota Care for their health coverage.

“Our people are not on the fringes,” said Thomas. “ In our present contract with the [Hennepin Co.] Department of Corrections, we can’t take sex offenders. We’ll never take Level 3 [high risk] sex offenders,” Thomas said.

The funding that NetWork receives from Hennepin County is on a pay-for-contract basis and comes from both its public health and corrections departments. There is also $1.6 million from the state Department of Corrections and a $2.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, part of the Johnson & Johnson company and said to be the country’s largest charity devoted exclusively to health and health care, with $10 billion in assets and grants approaching $500 million a year.

NetWork is also sponsored by Medica, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, RS Eden, Summit Academy OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Center), the Family Housing Fund, Turning Point and Twin Cities RISE! and its Awahli Program.

“One of the most important ingredients for us is these seven partners integrating their resources in one effort,” Thomas said. All the groups associated with NetWork have longstanding reputations in health and recovery programs.

NetWork owns two properties housing some 40 men and hopes to add two or three more in different locations around Hennepin County in the next six months. One or two houses in Ramsey County are planned for the coming summer.

According to Thomas, a work crew comes through every day to police the Powderhorn site. Snow and litter are properly removed and things that are broken get fixed.

“The Powderhorn neighborhood, from everything I hear, has been very generous and we really appreciate that,” Thomas said. The NetWork hosted a potluck and community meet at the Powderhorn residence last Thursday that was open to all neighborhood residents.

“Our commitment is to be an asset to that block and that community,” Thomas said.

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