Local blog Central District News is following a great story about a proposed transitional residence for felons on 22nd and Yesler. The church leased a house in January and is eager to get it occupied. Reverend Dr. Robert L. Jeffrey Sr, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church (whose church mission is "Serving the Needs of all People") is championing the transitional housing project, meanwhile, many gun-shy (felon-shy?) neighbors object to hosting felons in their neighborhood.
The two sides agreed last night to work on a Good Neighbor Agreement to operate the house, with provisions such as who would be allowed to reside there (e.g. no felons with a history of violent or sexual crimes) and under what terms.
Jeffrey talks passionately about the need for the house. State budget cuts are increasing the number of people who will be released from prison this year, at a time when existing halfway houses and other transition facilities are already short of beds. Without a place to stay, some will be kept behind bars past their early release date. Others could be released anyway, left to fend for themselves in situations where they lack a support structure.
I spoke with Rev. Jeffrey today, who underscored both his desire to work with neighbors to address their concerns and, if necessary, to continue with the project without their support. "What bothers me is that a lot of the complaints remind me of old civil rights discussions about keeping black people out of our neighborhoods—only now it's black people saying it [about felons]," says Rev. Jeffrey. "It's troublesome that people who struggled for so long are now intolerant of others' struggles."
The grand scope of Rev. Jeffrey's transitional housing vision is to offer drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in the house, provide a community mentor for each felon, and help them develop life skills. "[Recently released felons] biggest problems are isolation and alienation," Rev. Jeffrey says. "We have to attack those head on." He adds that the church owns a 22-acre farm where everyone will be on farm duty to learn about organic growing. "Some of these guys might turn into organic farmers, who knows?"
The project is hosting an open house this Thursday to encourage the public to tour the house and familiarize themselves with the project.