That’s a page from Google Earth, mounted and marked with push pins – each color denoting an attribute of a little bit of land in a certain Sunrise Heights neighborhood – a house with kids, a school, a playground. It was shown to us tonight at High Point Community Center, after a meeting that a weary but victorious group of neighbors decided to have even though the original reason for it had become a moot point. Those are the neighbors from the 32nd/Holden vicinity, who went into hyperdrive when a chance conversation with visiting strangers revealed that a house had been rented for likely use as a new home for up to five former “high-risk, high-need” inmates (original WSB story here). Read ahead to see what was said tonight and what they hope you might learn from their experience:
Tonight, they marveled at the swiftness of it all: It wasn’t even a week ago – just last Friday – when one of the neighbors walked up to people visiting a house they knew was for rent, thinking perhaps they were the new renters – and instead, found out it was a team of workers from Sound Mental Health, which had rented the house expecting to use it for the Re-entry Housing Pilot Project, a state-funded program through which SMH is under contract to help up to 75 former inmates start new post-incarceration lives.
The neighbors bristled at the lack of notification, and worried that this was far from an ideal neighborhood for this type of placement, with an abundance of small children living all around, plus schools, day cares, and a playground barely a stone’s throw away. They plunged into research and action.
Two of them e-mailed WSB before last weekend was out. We called Sound Mental Health first thing Monday morning to find out more, and published our story Monday evening. Meantime, as neighbors recounted tonight, they were busy calling everyone from SMH to state legislators – who had voted for the creation of the RHPP – and mobilizing as many people as they could reach in the blocks around.
Adam, one of the neighbors who co-led tonight’s meeting, noted with a rueful smile that Sound Mental Health’s website includes a tagline about “strengthening our community.” For these neighbors, it certainly did that, he smiled — though some admitted to us afterward that it had been a five-day nearly round-the-clock campaign, till word came late Wednesday (WSB followup here) that SMH was being allowed by the homeowner to pull out of the lease agreement.
Now, they say, they would like to see some change in this program, so that another house on another block doesn’t find itself in similar straits. “It’s important that people learn from this situation – they could lookfor another house, and it could be anywhere,” said Julie, who co-led the meeting with Adam. “We didn’t want this to be a case of, ‘well, we’re placated’ — we want to send a message.”
They promise to continue following up with political leaders in hopes some of these questions can be answered/issues addressed:
–Who makes the final decisions (such as who participates and which locations are chosen)?
–What are the criteria for choosing a location? Could those criteria be made public somehow
–If there is no continuous on-site supervision, how are the rules enforced — what if visitors come over at night and break the rules or entice the residents into bad behavior?
–What’s the accountability, for Sound Mental Health and also for the Department of Corrections?
–What provisions could be put into place regarding community notification requirements?
The group said one of the local legislators with whom it had been in contact, 34th District State Rep. Sharon Nelson, expressed a willingness to find out what changes might be made.
Tonight’s meeting, by the way, started with a Block Watch-organizing presentation by the Southwest Precinct’s crime-prevention coordinator Benjamin Kinlow; he said he had one scheduled for some of these folks already anyway – this situation just added more urgency to the undertone. Two of his standard Block Watch advice lines — “Neighbors need to know each other” and “The responsibility of solving problems falls on the shoulders of the people who live on the block” — rang particularly true, in light of what this neighborhood just went through.
(If you would like to schedule a Block Watch presentation for your neighborhood, by the way, Kinlow’s contact information is all here.)