Skip to main content


Addressing community crises requires hard work
Joni Hubred, News Editor
Joni Hubred, editor, Steele County Times

Ben Johnson has a very tough, very dangerous job. He and the other officers of the Steele County Drug Investigation Unit track and confront dangerous, violent criminals who exist in a world with no rules and no morality and no conscience.

These very often are people who traffic in drugs. He knows where the drugs come from, he knows how they get to Steele, Waseca, Freeborn, and Faribault counties. He knows no matter how many of them he arrests, he can’t stop that flow.

“We’re trying to hold our finger in holes while the water’s pouring over the top of the dam,” he said during last week’s community conversation about the opioid crisis, held at Associated Church in Owatonna.

Renee Lips-Bush has a heart-breaking job. As a treatment program director for South Central Human Relations Center, she works with the people to whom those drugs freely flow and tries to get them the help they need. She wants to change the conversation and the way we look at and talk about addiction.

“It is a chronic medical condition, and we have to start treating it that way,” she said. “Not that people are moral failures… they are people who have a condition that needs to be treated.”

She’s an advocate for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which uses suboxone to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal and drug cravings, and of distributing naloxone (Narcan), and taking other measures that save lives and at least aim to help people who’ve done the hard work of sobriety stay sober.

Being in the room with people so dedicated to their work–including also Tim Schammel with Steele County Community Corrections and Amber Aaseth and Maddie Hessian, both with the Public Health Department, was a humbling experience. Schammel talked about the shift in his world, where officers now take a dual law enforcement-social work approach.

As I’ve heard so often in Steele-Waseca Drug Court, the real work of “second chances” is not for the faint of heart. Schammel said it’s far more difficult for people to face their problems and make the changes required to get their lives back on track–easier, by far, to just sit out your parole and try to keep your nose clean.

But second chances also require the community to do some hard work: funding programs, educating ourselves, facing our hard truths. I thought about that as I read the first interview in our new “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” series. Wanda Hansen was painfully honest about how she sees our community and the judgment she has experienced as someone who has physical and mental health challenges.

For some of our friends and neighbors, the hardest job of all is just staying alive and healthy and housed. And for the rest of us, it might be to examine our hearts and root out whatever holds us back from having compassion for and supporting them.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates