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Four more tiny homes under construction

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Four more tiny homes — small homeless shelters — are now under construction, which will bring the total to 10 available units in Chippewa Falls.

Earlier this month, the Rotary Club of Chippewa Falls provided a $10,000 grant, allowing for the construction of a larger shelter, big enough for a family of four or five members, said Mike Cohoon, a pastor at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie who has led the effort to place the tiny homes in the community.

“It’s a little bigger than what we usually make,” Cohoon said of the family-sized unit. “Chippewa Valley Technical College is building the trailer for us. We are partnering with the Fall Creek School District. They have a construction class that will build the home.”

The family-sized unit will be 20 feet long and 7.5 feet wide, big enough for five to sleep inside, he said. He said there has been a need for a family unit. One of the other units under construction also will be big enough for a family, as well.

“We’ve had cases where we kept a family at the same church in two separate trailers,” he said. “There are school children that are homeless in the area.”

Aaron Widiker, foundation chairman and past president of the Rotary Club of Chippewa Falls, said his club was looking at donating to a local organization, and members wanted the money to go to an ongoing sustainable project, rather than something where the money is spent and gone. The tiny home project fit their objectives, he said.

“It’s a great cause locally for people in need,” Widiker said. “It seemed like a natural fit for the club to help people locally.”

Most of the units already completed and in use are 8-by-12 feet or 8-by-15 feet in size, he added. In the three years since the tiny homes were unveiled, homeless individuals have used the shelters totaling 2,400 nights, Cohoon said.

“That replaces what we would have spent in hotel vouchers,” he said.

The six units in use are five tiny homes plus one camper, which really can’t be used in winter months. Two are at Landmark Christian Church, two at Chippewa Valley Bible Church on the south side of Chippewa Falls, one at Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Chippewa Falls, and one is at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the city’s West Hill.

Cohoon said he’s humbled by the continued gifts of money. He added that Rotary Club members are planning to assist in the construction of their unit.

“We’re just glad the community has come along on the process,” he said. “They reached out to us, which was wonderful. They told us about a grant, and we can draw from it.”

Of the four under construction, Cohoon anticipates two will be done before winter. They purchased one that needed minor work, such as installing new windows and a new heater.

He’s pleased to have so many being built at once.

“It’s more than we planned on building this year,” he said. “Ten (units) was our magical number.”

Cohoon added that homelessness exists all year long, even though the focus is usually in the winter months.

“In the summer, (homeless) people tend to just want to camp more,” he said. “It’s hard to predict if we’ll see an influx in September.”

The long-term goal remains to create a village of the tiny homes at one location, he added.

“We’ve looked at properties, but we need to raise the funds for it first,” he said.

A tiny home is mobile, built on a trailer, featuring a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete, between construction and furnishings.

In February 2017, the City Council approved the first conditional permit for two tiny homes to be placed at Trinity United Methodist Church, and has since approved the permits for the other two locations in the city.

Mayor Greg Hoffman praised how the tiny homes have worked out.

“We’ve had absolutely no problems in the city,” Hoffman said Monday. “It’s worked out very well. We don’t have police issues. They’ve been good neighbors.”

Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since the Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition, a group of 17 area churches, has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed.

People staying in tiny homes need to pass a background check first.

The Chippewa Falls City Council created an ordinance in February 2017 to allow tiny homes to be operated in city limits. The permit states that the portable toilet must be emptied daily in the church’s bathroom. It also states there is a zero-tolerance policy on illegal activities, and alcohol, illegal drugs and guns or other weapons are banned from the homes.

Other rules stated in the special use permit include that no outside guests are allowed, cars must be parked in parking lots and not on lawns, and that no open flames — including candles or cigarettes — are allowed inside, and the guest will lock the door whenever they leave the premises.

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

SEATTLE — The day he picked to die, Robert Fuller had the party of a lifetime.

In the morning, he dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt and married his partner while sitting on a couch in their senior housing apartment. He then took the elevator down three floors to the building’s common room, decorated with balloons and flowers.

With an elaborately carved walking stick, he shuffled around to greet dozens of well-wishers and friends from across the decades, fellow church parishioners and social-work volunteers. The crowd spilled into a sunny courtyard on a beautiful spring day.

A gospel choir sang. A violinist and soprano performed “Ave Maria.” A Seattle poet recited an original piece imagining Fuller as a tree, with birds perched on his thoughts.

And when the time came, “Uncle Bob” banged his walking stick on the ceiling to command attention.

“I’ll be leaving you in a little over an hour,” he announced.

A sob burst. Fuller turned his head sympathetically toward its source.

“I’m so ready to go,” he said. “I’m tired.”

Later that afternoon, Fuller plunged two syringes filled with a light brown liquid — a fatal drug combination mixed with Kahlua, his favorite alcohol — into a feeding tube in his abdomen. He was one of about 1,200 people who have used Washington’s Death with Dignity Act to end their lives in the decade since it became law.

As such laws grow more popular — they have taken or will take effect in Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine this year, making it nine states where “aid in dying” is allowed — more people who are suffering and terminally ill have the option of hastening their death. Those who do cite a variety of reasons — fear of losing their autonomy or dignity, becoming a burden to loved ones, becoming unable to enjoy life — but they are united in a desire to take control of their own ends.

The Associated Press documented one man’s story in the days surrounding his death, spending time with him and those around him. In an interview the day before he died, Fuller said he wanted to demonstrate for people around the country how such laws work.

For him, the decision to end his life at 75 was, if not easy, never in doubt.

A long relationship with death

Death did not frighten Bob Fuller. It had been with him since he was young.

He grew up in Hooksett, New Hampshire, the second of four children. His father was a furniture maker, his mother a homemaker. He described their relationship as loveless and unhappy, but he was close to his ailing grandmothers and would frequently sit with them.

When he was 8, he said, his father’s mother, severely depressed, drowned herself in the Merrimack River after leaving her glasses and slippers on the shore. He recalled seeing her body in the water, a trauma that began his long, matter-of-fact relationship with death.

He called it his “default setting”: “If life gets painful, you go to the Merrimack River.”

Fuller’s friends described him as playful, wise, witty and vibrant, a wonderful singer and the type of person who collected friends everywhere. He sponsored people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction after quitting drinking in 1983. In retirement he ran a voucher program — now named for him — through the LGBTQ support organization Peer Seattle that provided music and theater tickets to those who couldn’t afford them.

As a former nurse, he was like an unofficial assistant manager at his building, helping residents change bandages or picking them up when they fell in their kitchens.

But his old default setting persisted through much of his life, a sort of undercurrent to the way he lived “out loud,” as he put it.

He tried to kill himself in 1975, he said, when he was drinking too much and despondent after his marriage ended; he had revealed to his wife he was gay. Fuller had moved to Seattle for nursing school, and he was working as a psychiatric nurse at Harborview Medical Center when he swiped handfuls of narcotics, went to a nearby park, swallowed them and lay down to die.

He called for help when it started raining, he said. He didn’t want to die cold and wet.

In the mid-1980s, Fuller helped care for friends suffering from AIDS and administered a fatal dose of medication to one at the end of his fight, he said. But his own sexual behavior was so risky it verged on suicidal. He contracted AIDS, then lived long enough to benefit from the AIDS drug mixture when it was developed in the mid-1990s.

“I think I wanted to get AIDS,” he said. “All my friends were dying.”

For critics, that sort of fatalism is a key problem with aid-in-dying laws. Some AIDS patients who chose to end their lives might have lived long enough to benefit from the AIDS drug mixture as Fuller did, said Wesley J. Smith, an author and prominent critic of the laws.

Beyond that, to allow people to hasten their deaths represents an abandonment, a signal to the terminally ill that their lives are not worth living, he said.

“We should be very concerned that we are normalizing suicide in our society, especially at the very time during which, practically out of the other side of our mouth, we are saying suicide is an epidemic,” Smith said.

Whether such deaths do constitute suicide is a semantic debate. In Washington and other states with aid-in-dying laws, coroners are forbidden from categorizing the deaths as suicides; instead, they list natural causes. Opponents, including the American Medical Association, maintain that “assisted suicide” is more accurate.

‘Why should I suffer?’

Fuller had long thought that if he were ever to become terminally ill, he would want to control his death. That notion was reinforced two years ago, when a woman in his building used Washington’s law, he said. She explained the requirements for him, including that two doctors must certify you have less than six months to live, that you must be competent, and that you must request the fatal drugs twice verbally and once in writing, witnessed by two people.

Last summer he went to the doctor with a sore throat. It turned out to be an aggressive cancer at the base of his tongue. He began a round of chemo but abandoned it, saying it was killing his soul. Instead, early this year, he picked a date — May 10 — and began planning.

“Why should I suffer?” he said. “I’m totally at peace with this.”

In the ensuing months he put his affairs in order. He went up the Space Needle and took a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway with his partner and caretaker of the past few years, Reese Baxter.

The cancer was closing his throat, making it difficult to eat, but he had the flan from the Mexican restaurant around the corner one last time.

On Facebook he described his pain, his falling weight and his final visits with old friends.

Fuller began returning more often to the Catholic church he had long attended. His spiritual views were hardly orthodox — he considered himself a shaman, and described his impending death as a state of “perpetual meditation” — but Seattle’s St. Therese Parish was known for accommodating a range of beliefs. Fuller was beloved there, and he craved the community. He had sung in the gospel choir and read scriptures from the lectern during services, sometimes delivering insightful or funny remarks off the cuff, said Kent Stevenson, the choir’s director.

Stevenson credited the “tenacity and clarity” of Fuller’s choice.

“It was hard to even cry because he was so forthcoming and so sober about it,” Stevenson said. “He was just so outrageously unique and such a character, this was completely in keeping with who Bob was.”

The Roman Catholic Church opposes aid-in-dying laws, citing the sanctity of life. But Fuller’s decision was widely known and accepted among the parishioners. At the service where he received his last communion on May 5, the Rev. Quentin Dupont brought over a group of white-clad children who were receiving their first communion.

They raised their arms and blessed him.

The end

As he hugged friends and sang along at his party, Fuller appeared serene, betraying no sign of reconsideration. He also kept his sense of humor, greeting a reporter by saying: “I’m dying to read your story.”

“You can find me in God’s eyes. You can find me in beautiful music,” he told the crowd. “You can find me in terrible, terrible farts.”

He invited those who wished to be with him for his death to come upstairs. Friends packed into his bedroom. He changed into satin, navy blue pajamas and lay down in his bed.

“It’s hard to be here, but I wouldn’t miss it,” said Yvonne Kilcup, of Tacoma, whom Fuller began sponsoring in recovery 24 years ago. “He gave me a good solid kick in the butt. Now I’m going to hold his feet as he passes.”

In the kitchen, two volunteers with the nonprofit End of Life Washington mixed the drugs and Kahlua in a glass measuring cup. They said they considered themselves to be like midwives, helping usher people out of the world instead of into it.

“You know if you do this, if you put this in your system, you’ll go to sleep and you won’t wake up?” one, Stephanie Murray, told him as she delivered the syringes.

“I do,” Fuller answered.

Fuller plunged the syringes.

After a few moments of tense quiet, he led his friends in singing, “I’m so glad we had this time together,” the sign-off from the old Carol Burnett television show.

His eyes closed for longer and longer periods.

“I’m still here,” he said.

And then, he wasn’t.

Rep. Duffy announces resignation to spend time with family

Sean Duffy has been a dedicated public servant, first in his tenure as Ashland County district attorney, then as a Congressman representing northwest Wisconsin since 2010, said Brian Westrate, treasurer of the state’s Republican Party.

Duffy, 47, announced Monday on his Facebook page that he is resigning Sept. 23 to spend more time with his family.

Duffy says that he recently learned that his ninth child due in October has a heart condition and “will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications.” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy.

“I have nothing but respect for him,” Westrate said. “Making the decision to put your wife and family first is about the most honorable thing you can do.”

Westrate said Duffy will be remembered for his efforts in securing the border and meaningful immigration reform, to focusing on obtaining rural broadband.

“He pursues things his district cares about,” Westrate said.

“He has been a stalwart supporter in Washington for the state of Wisconsin. He’s been a good team player for the state. He’s been a good partner for the conservative caucus. He will leave a legacy of civil service.”

In his statement, Duffy said that raising a family is hard work, particularly when he is frequently gone.

“Being away from home in Washington four days a week is challenging, and for that reason, I have always been open to signs from God when it comes to balancing my desire to serve both my family and my country,” he wrote.

Duffy added: “It is not an easy decision — because I truly love being your Congressman – but it is the right decision for my family, which is my first love and responsibility.”

State Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, said he was saddened to hear the news and he wishes Duffy’s family well.

“He’s been a great congressman for our area, and a strong voice for northern Wisconsin, with is personality. He’s been a strong advocate,” Summerfield said.

When asked if he would consider seeking the vacant seat, Summerfield said he needs to talk that over with his family and supporters.

“I wouldn’t rule it out, for sure,” Summerfield said. “It’s always something I’ve been considering. We’ll just go forward from here.”

State Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, said she doubts that this is the last time the state has heard from Duffy. She has known him for years.

“He’s always struck me as a very impressive young man, passionate and smart,” Bernier said. “Sean will be missed, and I wish him all the best.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson released a short statement, saying he is saddened by the news.

“Family responsibilities should always come first, and I fully understand and respect your decision to devote your full time and attention to your family,” Johnson wrote. “You are in our prayers.”

Rep. James Edming, R-Glen Flora, also issued a press release in praise of Duffy’s tenure in Congress.

“Throughout his time in office, Congressman Duffy has been an amazing advocate for the hardworking folks of Wisconsin’s Northwoods in Washington D.C.,” Edming wrote. “Our state and our nation are better today because he stepped up to serve the people of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. I am proud to call Sean my friend and I know that stepping down was a difficult decision for him and his family. I will truly miss working with him on behalf of the people that we both represent.”

Duffy is now the 12th incumbent Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives to announce not seeking re-election. Westrate said the national media is playing up that angle, but it doesn’t fit in this case.

“(National media) are trying to make it sound like he’s part of the Republicans running scared for the hills,” Westrate said.

Duffy has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and frequently appeared on national political news programs defending the president.

Duffy appeared on a season of MTV’s “The Real World: Boston” in 1997. He earned a marketing degree from St. Mary’s University and a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. He served as Ashland County district attorney for eight years.

The 7th Congressional District covers most of northwest Wisconsin, including most of Chippewa County, except Chippewa Falls. In press releases, Duffy has boasted about holding town halls in all 20 counties he represents. Duffy replaced David Obey, a Democrat, who held the seat for 15 terms.

He and his wife, Rachel, have eight children with the ninth on the way. They now reside in Wausau.