Yucaipa Church Frustrated in Cabazon, May Move Substance Abuse Program

Set Free has run the men's and women's ranch programs in Cabazon more than 15 years and had few problems with county agencies until 2010 or 2011, church officials said.

Leaders of Set Free, the Yucaipa church that runs a faith-based residential program for substance abusers in Cabazon, have been trying more than a year to comply with Riverside County code enforcement, but they're frustrated and they may move, they said Friday.

"We want the community to know where we are, what the situation is, and we're open to a new location," Pastor Willie Dalgity said Friday Jan. 11 in Yucaipa. "But we need help. We are not a rich ministry. We rely on donations to help people."

County officials and two residents who have complained publicly about Set Free in the past could not be reached to comment for this report.

The following includes part of Set Free officials' current perspective, with background previously reported by Banning-Beaumont Patch.

Set Free has run the men's and women's ranch programs in Cabazon more than 15 years and had few problems with residents or county agencies until 2010 or 2011, Dalgity said.

About two years ago, Set Free had six homes in east Cabazon, including a home at Elm and Esperanza, with room for as many as 100 men and 40 women, Dalgity said.

"Now we're down to two homes for the men," Mark Stringer, director of the Set Free Men's Ranch in Cabazon said Friday in Yucaipa. "And one for the women, a brand new home."

The Set Free women's home in Cabazon is on several acres on Esperanza Avenue, women's ranch director Anna Stringer said.

In September 2011, the county Board of Supervisors ordered owners of the Set Free structures in Cabazon to bring six properties up to minimum county building and fire codes.

Residents Martin Sanderson and Carola Baer told members of the West Desert Municipal Advisory Council in December 2011 the Set Free residences were in violation of "public nuisance laws."

County code enforcement then issued abatement notices on the properties, and Dalgity told Banning-Beaumont Patch in December 2011 he intended to close the six structures in question.

In February 2012, volunteers with New Creation Church of Banning, Beaumont and Yucca Valley helped demolish one of the Set Free residences.

Dalgity and the Stringers said Friday they are frustrated with the situation in Cabazon in part because they feel they're being held to higher standards than some of the neighboring residents.

East Cabazon near Elm and Esperanza includes a number of older trailer homes, some dating back to the 1950s, Dalgity said.

"I feel as though we have to abate our properties and right next door are properties that are just as run down or worse," Dalgity said.

In addition, Dalgity said Set Free has been unfairly targeted for criticism and hyperbole because of the clients they serve.

Dalgity said in December 2011 Set Free had stopped housing parolees and probationers. He and the Stringers said Friday that to their knowledge no Set Free clients had ever committed any serious crimes in Cabazon.

"People know Set Free in Cabazon, they know the good work we do," Dalgity said. "Our people help their neighbors, we give out food, we are good neighbors in Cabazon. We have helped literally thousands of people over the years, and people recognize Cabazon as a location because of Set Free."

Set Free in Yucaipa has a congregation of about 275 people, Dalgity said. The church has annual Christmas benefits for needy families in the Pass area. For more information about Set Free, visit www.setfreerocks.com.

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