Wright County residents concerned after ministry decides to house convicted felons

A local church ministry is hoping a new house it purchased in Wright County will help convicted felons and addicts get back on the road to success. But neighbors are angry, believing the new tenants are putting their children at risk.

Steve Wool describes himself as a deacon in the New Life in Christ Ministries.

“We’ve all sinned and come up short in the glory of God,” said Wool.

A convicted sex offender, Wool is now the church elder responsible for managing a home the ministry purchased recently in Buffalo Township.

“Am I ashamed of what I did? Yes, I am,” said Wool. “If I could take it back, I would, but I can’t.”

The church’s leader is Pastor Dave Hibbison, an ex-felon himself who served time for a bank robbery. His mission, according to New Life’s website, is to serve those coming from incarceration and/or addiction by building lasting relationships in Christ’s love and changing lives for the better.

The goal apparently is to use a house tucked in a neighborhood filled with families and children as something of a half-way home, where Pastor Hibbison, Wool and other church leaders can minister and help offenders get back on their feet and succeed in society. They acknowledge a level one offender is currently living in the Canterbury Avenue home.

“Everybody coming out needs to have solid support group,” said Pastor Hibbison. “If they don’t they are going to reoffend. That’s why our recidivism rate is so high.”

“Why did this happen?” said Colleen Ernesti, a member of the Buffalo Township Board. “I’m just shocked this can happen. It can happen to anyone.”

Ernesti told Fox 9 the neighborhood surrounding the house is outraged as residents brought up the issue at a recent town meeting. She explained many feel duped, alleging the church wasn’t upfront with them about their intentions for the house.

In an effort to protect the neighborhood, Ernesti reports town leaders forwarded their concerns to Wright County, which recently sent a letter to New Life explaining that if they are indeed a boarding house or something similar, they need to go through state DHS permitting within 15 days. As for now, it remains unclear how the home is classified and if it would require a license.

"As of this date, we have not received an application for licensure from this entity," read a statement from DHS. "Without more information, we cannot comment on whether this program needs to obtain a settings license."

The church has a board meeting Thursday to discuss their next step.