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Cali Owings, Published June 19 2013

Project provides former inmates with housing, faith-based setting

FARGO – It was Halloween, and Nathan Negaard was fleeing the Centre transitional living facility here after using drugs with friends.

As he walked across the bridge between Moorhead and Fargo, he thought about jumping into the Red River. He knew he could end up back behind bars for his actions.

Bob Light was a Fargo trial attorney for 17 years, but he was disbarred and landed in jail because of his alcoholism.

Kevyn Buckle’s record spans 10 counties in Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s been out of jail for three weeks.

The three men now live together at Project Home. The duplex on Third Avenue North in Fargo is an “accountability” house for former inmates. It provides long-term housing and a Christian faith-based environment.

Life in their duplex is pretty normal. It revolves around their newfound faith and commitment to staying out of trouble. Two of the men work 11-hour days landscaping. They visit with family and friends – relationships they’re working to restore. Curfew is 10 p.m. On Thursday nights, they have Bible study. Sunday is, of course, reserved for church at First Assembly of God in Fargo.

The Project Home house is a partnership between Jail Chaplains, which provides spiritual guidance and assistance to Cass County Jail inmates, and My Father’s House, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that provides similar housing across the state.

The group began renovating the duplex in January. Project coordinator Gary Opp said they’re working on the other side of the duplex, which they hope to open for three more men in July.

Their work is sponsored by a half-dozen congregations throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area, as well as by businesses that helped make the renovations possible.

The project provides job assistance, mentoring and permanent housing for former inmates who might otherwise cycle through halfway houses and shelters because no one will rent to them – especially with felony convictions.

“There’s a stereotype around that word ‘felony,’ ” Light said.

He said most people assume felons are dangerous criminals.

“That’s the exception, not the rule,” he said.

After he got out of jail, Light lived at North Dakota Teen Challenge, a residential recovery program in Mandan, N.D. Then he lived at a shelter in St. Cloud, Minn., before landing back in Fargo at ShareHouse chemical dependency treatment.

Unlike transitional programs, Project Home tenants sign leases for six months or a year.

Light’s stay at Project Home will be more permanent. He signed a one-year lease and took on a role managing the house.

Dave and Mary Peterson rented to felons before Project Home, with mixed results.

“Project Home has a better program than I can provide them,” Dave Peterson said. The 93-year-old landlord, who lives next door, said the men are respectful tenants who help out with yard work.

The house keeps the tenants connected to the faith they developed while incarcerated. All three men said they were lucky to have landed at the Cass County Jail where Jail Chaplains operates.

“I lost everything – my job, home, cars, money,” Light said at picnic held last week to thank Jail Chaplains and its supporters. “I have more today than I had back then.”

Two weeks into his stay at the Cass County Jail, Negaard started attending Chaplain Mike Sonju’s Bible study.

“God works through him,” Negaard said. Sonju pointed him to Project Home, where he’s lived since he was released two months ago.

After a decades-long history with alcohol and drugs, Negaard has been clean for nine months. He turned 35 last Thursday – his first sober birthday in three years.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599