From 2014 to 2016, Crawford County saw an astounding 700% increase in methamphetamine-related arrests.
The startling number is just one of many formidable statistics from the 2017 Crawford County Public Health Community Needs Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan.
Of the men and women incarcerated in Crawford County Jail, some 95 percent are addicted to drugs or alcohol, and Prairie du Chien Police Chief Chad Abram said in a 2016 interview that the city of about 5,700 has been referred to as “the one-pot meth lab capital of Wisconsin” by statewide law enforcement.
With the jail spending alone upward of $13,000 a month on Narcan, Crawford County has a growing substance-abuse epidemic but a lack of resources for those in thick of or recovering from addiction. Determined to be part of the solution are Kari Sanding, a Crawford County Juvenile Court Worker previously with the Department of Corrections, and Pete Zibrowski, a former drug addict.
For the past eight months, the pair have been planning the development of a sober home to be located in the former Mayo Clinic Health System Villa Success substance abuse rehab center building at 121 S. Prairie St. The 3,200-square-foot, fully furnished, 11-bedroom and three-bathroom facility, now operating as a vacation rental, is for sale for $190,000, with Sanding and Zibrowski seeking community and business donations toward the initial purchase of what will be named “For Pete’s Sake.”
“People need a safe place,” Zibrowski says. “I know that from my own experience. If they don’t they’ll go back to using.”
The proposed facility, which will have a 24-hour staff member on site and offer its communal living areas for AA and NA meetings will not offer treatment services but serve as a supportive sober living environment with assistance in the securing employment, applying for health coverage or food assistance and developing self-sufficiency skills. Occupants will pay rent, estimated to be about $650 per month for private pay or $1100 per month for Department of Corrections or Treatment Court referrals, and must abide by rules including no drugs or alcohol on the premises and participation in chores and general maintenance.
Volunteers will lead daily activities and excursions onsite and in the community, and the home’s large kitchen and lounging areas will allow for conversation and socialization. A hired home manager will be in charge of rent collection, volunteer coordination, rule enforcement and grant writing. There will be no minimum or maximum stay at For Pete’s Sake, and there will be “an open-door policy with law enforcement to maintain the integrity of the home.”
Sanding and Zibrowski, who initially contacted Rural Development about applying for a grant, were referred to Community Development Alternatives Incorporated. The 501©3 organization has served as the “financial arm” for regional organizations that have not yet secured nonprofit status or grant eligibility. Lori Bekkum, housing specialist for CDA, and executive director Dale Klemme, consulted with board members about “umbrellaing” the project after Sanding came armed with statistics about the drug plight and extreme need for a place like For Pete’s Sake.
“A lot of what CDA does is take on projects that are meaningful and make a difference,” Bekkum says. “We knew we had a drug problem in Crawford County, but we didn’t know how bad it really is.”
With the Crawford County DOC closing its transitional living home in 2017, Sanding says those with a criminal record are going to be For Pete’s Sake’s “bread and butter.” In the For Pete’s Sake business plan, Sanding notes “Offenders coming out of prison are housed at the Prairie Motel with other homeless people. Drugs and alcohol are prevalent in this facility as it mainly houses those who are unable to rent (or) due to a history of evictions, property damage, criminal history, and substance abuse.”
Crawford County has around 45 inmates, the majority on drug charges, in the Wisconsin State Prison System, costing taxpayers around $1.44 million annually.
“We just have an incredible drug problem right now,” Sanding says. “It’s kind of one of things that no matter who you are or what aisle you’re on, drug use is a big issue, and it would be hard not to find someone affected by it.”
Zibrowski, who is completing drug treatment court for manufacturing and delivering marijuana, is open about his lengthy criminal history, calling drug addiction “a lifelong struggle.” At times, the 53-year-old has maintained sobriety for several years before relapsing. While he has “done ‘em all” when it comes to drugs, he had a six-month bout of methamphetamine use, noting “Boy, that stuff is dangerous.”
While living in St. Paul for two years, Zibrowski says he stayed on track, finding sober activities and peer support abounded. When he moved back to Crawford County to be closer to family, he “got into more trouble,” finding none of the resources he had in the Twin Cities.
There are currently only five regularly scheduled AA sessions in Crawford County, and no full time ADOA treatment staff members at hospitals in the Prairie du Chien area. The average wait time for a new client to obtain mental health services in Crawford County is nine months.
“There’s really nothing down here for people to do that’s sober,” Zibrowski said of Prairie du Chien.
An avid attender or AA and NA meetings, Zibrowski hopes to serve as a staff member at For Pete’s Sake, feeling his life experience will prove valuable.
“I can be an ear to lend to them, and my (history) has taught me some things about what needs to happen (to stay sober),” Zibrowski says. “Just working with other people and having something going on with sobriety is exciting to me and me helping others helps me — I’m not thinking about using.”
Sanding and Zibrowski hope to have the facility in operation by spring, and say the building’s seller is enthusiastic about its restored purpose.
Perhaps no one is more eager than Zibrowski.
“This is going to be a very positive thing for the community,” he said.