Housing Sex Offenders Summit Part II – March 14, 2012
College Church, 10 am – 12 noon
In attendance: Father Stan Aksamit, Our Lady of Peace Parish, Turners Falls, chair, Network to End Homelessness, Elizabeth Bienz, ServiceNet, Edward Bird, Hampden County Correctional Center, Rosa Blair, Springfield property manager, Carl Cignoni, Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department, Steve Como, Soldier On, Joe Critelli, Hampden County House of Corrections, Jason Cuyler, Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department, Rabbi Justin David, Congregation B’Nai Israel, Danielle DeBerry, ServiceNet, Yvonne Freccero, Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, Jen Glover, Franklin County Home Care Corporation, Laurie Guidry, MATSA, Ellie Harris, ServiceNet, Rick Hart, Hampshire County Friends of the Homeless, Richard Hendrick, Eliot CHS-Homeless Services, Hwei-Ling Greeney, Community Connections, Jay Levy, Eliot CHS – Homeless Services, Don Lundgren, College Church, Sarah McGahan, Salvatin Army, Sgt. Anne McMahon, Northampton Police, Marie McNeil, VAMC, Jocelyn Ojeda, Salvation Army, Robin Powell, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Kelly Pryzpek, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Wanda Rolon, ServiceNet, Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Reikka Simula Gooden, Housing for All, Chris Slack, assistant pastor, Laurie Smith, ServiceNet, Dominick Sondrini, Soldier On, College Church, Bill Toller, Diocese of Springfield and Hampden County Sheriff’s Dept., Claudia Vogelsany, ServiceNet
Presentation by Rosa Blair: Springfield property manager. 35 years of housing sex offenders. Success is based on a team approach – social workers, police, community – always checking on them. Rosa has no judgment, wants to provide them a second chance; wants to provide them a home, provide a sense of love and support.
Runs 59 units, about 30 tenants are sex offenders. Property owner knows of the population, has a presence on the property, supportive, but delegates decisions to Rosa. No problems between tenants who are sex offenders and those who aren’t. From the beginning, when tenants enter, there is a sense of plan, a program. There are rules, e.g., no visitors after 10 pm, no alcohol or drugs. They have to review and sign that they will follow. Most people who arrive, stay “forever” because there are no alternatives (no other housing available for sex offenders). When full, no other place to try, only shelter.
Rosa feels completely safe, totally respected. Has great relationships with tenants. Everybody wants to have it work out, to follow the rules.
Supervision in the form of cameras (in hallways). No objection to them.
Rent is $430/month. Shared bathroom. Furnished rooms, includes all utilities.
Many have families who have abandoned them due to offense – Rosa holds Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners for tenants to provide community and support.
Also have studio apartments (4 studios) and 11 regular apartments; if they have a good record as tenant, they can move to the studio. Rent ranges from $560 to $620. Studios are $460. Many tenants receive SSI.
The challenge of locating in the neighborhood: Population was in building well before notification laws (since 2000). Only 2-3 other buildings in area – never a problem. Across street from federal court (19 cameras there!).
Rosa will take tenants with no money at all, wait a month or two to til work out rent.
Most tenants come from referrals from correctional facilities.
Joe Critelli will bring Rosa’s application form to next meeting to distribute to group.
Rosa’s observation: she finds sex offenders are better tenants, more conscientious and rule-abiding.
Draft Action Plan Review and Discussion
Non-profit housing group outreach – brainstorm of groups to outreach to: possibly Valley CDC, SMOC.
Private landlords: start with doing the outreach around general issues on homelessness, then individualize around particular tenants, some of whom may have sex offender record. Some members feel there are currently private landlords who are open to this kind of outreach.
Must prioritize information around safety measures (e.g., cameras, probation officers) to reassure landlords.
First step is getting cadre of landlords together who are interested in helping homeless. Then focus on the concrete steps to take to make it work.
Reach out to landlords from a fiscal perspective. Guaranteed tenancies, income.
Amherst vacancy rate is 1% – fiscal pull isn’t so meaningful.
HAPHousing will be building 41 units of affordable housing in Amherst, 8 units designated to extremely low-income.
Suggestion to seek private landlord involvement through houses of worship.
Also seek landlords currently housing sex offenders (through registry search) to reach out to them to provide additional support.
Will incorporate private landlord outreach into action plan and revisit at next working group meeting.
Review of Draft Guidelines for Inclusion of Sex Offenders in Faith Communities
Feedback: “Circles of support” for offenders and for congregations (and for landlords). Accountability for every component – offenders, congregants. Consider framing issue in mode of larger, charitable work in community.
Another question to consider asking: are there any specific restrictions you have with probation that could come into play around congregational life, e.g., are you allowed to be in a place where children are present.
Ensure information on resources gets out, e.g., when registering, get list of congregations where they would be welcome. Right now there is a general list of resources, not specific names.
Consider adding another item in “10 things you should know” that demystifies the notion of what it is to be a registered sex offender.
Closing comment: Wants to consider changing label of “sex offender” vs. “people who have sexually offending behavior” or “people who have sexual offense histories” – make it less attached the person. Agreed on the importance of language and the need to avoid damaging labels. Will brainstorm what to rename our group at our next meeting.
Next working group meeting: Tuesday, 4/10, 9:30 – 11 am, AISS, 736 State Street, Springfield,