Tonight the New Hope Baptist Church will again square off with the Central District neighbors unhappy with plans to turn a rented house at 133 22nd Avenue into transitional housing for ex-convicts. Among other concerns, neighbors are under the impression that prisoners will be released early from their sentences to enter the home, because the New Hope Baptist Church is applying to the Earned Release Date Housing Voucher Program. The name of this program is misleading. In reality, all convicts are given an earned release date and a maximum release date when sentenced.

“The goal is to have more offenders complete their sentence on their earned release date, based on completion of chemical dependency programs and if they have no [prison] infractions,” explains Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis. The earned release date offers an incentive for offenders “to get their ducks in a row.” These ducks include having a place to live and a plan to generate income. If a prisoner doesn’t have a place to live, they will be kept to their maximum release date and then released, homeless, with $40 dollars to their name. Created last July with the passage of state SB 5525, the ERD Housing Voucher Program gives qualifying ex-convicts up to $1,500 total for three months of housing.

“It’s not just that we’re trying to do favors for offenders,” Lewis explains, “it’s what’s best for public safety. We want to know where offenders live. If they’re homeless, living under bridges, or in homeless shelters, it’s bad for public safety. Putting them in a stable environment increases public safety.”

The reality, says Lewis, is that offenders are released to the county that they were convicted of their first felony, whether they're welcome or not. So neighbors opposing transitional housing are not keeping ex-convicts from re-entering their neighborhoods—they’re just keeping them from entering a controlled, safe environment where they can continue to receive treatment. Currently, the DOC has roughly 40 ex-convicts per week receiving housing vouchers. By contrast, there were 1,440 ex-convicts released in King County during the fiscal year of 2009.

The East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition will hold a meeting tonight at Seattle University, Chardin Hall Room 145, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to discuss the proposed transitional housing at 133 22nd Avenue.