The open house last night was supposed to be a chance to build consensus and sooth fears over moving felons into the community centered around 22 Avenue and Yesler Street. But, if neighbors were willing to compromise in their opposition, they weren't willing to talk to me about it.
“We’ve been working for some time to create a program to address the warehousing of people,” explains Reverend Dr. Robert L. Jeffrey Sr. He says that he wants to open a housing for up to 10 felons—women in the basement and men upstairs—in the Central District (which I've written about here), and he'll do it even if the neighbors don't like it.
“This block’s going to hell in a hand basket,” a woman muttered while passing on the opportunity to tour the house.
Church members were on hand to answer questions and give tours. Neighbors walked through quietly, alone or in small groups, before heading across the street to conduct their own private meeting (which I was politely barred from). None of the neighbors was willing to comment, but their questions were statement enough that they viewed the housing as an extension of prison.
“Will there be bunk beds?” someone asks.
“No, they’ll have twin beds. I wouldn’t put an adult in a twin bed,” explains Madylin Dahman, the house manager.
“Are you locking them in at night?” asks another person.
“I’m not going to lock them in at night. This is not a prison,” says Dahman. Residents will have a 10:45 curfew, she adds, based on the honor system.
More after the jump.
The house is not a prison and it’s not yet transitional housing. The church hopes to create a Good Neighbor Agreement to get neighbors on board with the project before it commences with renting out rooms, which they want to do “as quickly as possible.” However, they're willing to open the house up to convicts despite neighborhood objections, if it comes down to that.
In theory, this is a great program and its easy to dismiss neighbors as being narrow-minded. Yet while the house is furnished and the church is eager to begin its work, a lot of the framework for this program feels unfinished.
“Are you going through training [to prepare for the program]?” asks one neighbor.
“We’re not training, we’re duplicating,” responds Randy Holt, who will be running the house’s AA program. The house is basing its program off of the Interaction Transition House, another transitional support house for "ex-offenders" located on 16 Street.
“But will you be trained?” the neighbor presses.
“We’ve already had familiarization,” Holt says, “but there is some training that has to be done.”
And what happens if someone doesn’t obey the house rules—rules like following the 10:45 curfew, not doing their chores, smoking in the house, causing disturbances for the neighbors?
“I’m not exactly sure how punishments will be,” says Dahman. “We haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.”
This is obvious.
Monday, March 8th, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. the East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition will hold a meeting at Seattle University, Chardin Hall Room 145 to discuss ongoing neighborhood concerns—the concerns one open house didn’t fix. Facilitating the discussion will be Seattle Police Department’s Director John Hayes.