On February 1, the Network’s Housing Sex Offenders Working Group hosted a gathering at College Church in Northampton of 40 people, including faith leaders, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and providers, for a training on the challenging issue of housing sex offenders.  Led by Dr. Laurie Guidry, an expert in the field, the group learned an extraordinary amount in a short time  and committed to attend a follow-up session on Wednesday, March 14, 10 am – 12 noon, at College Church, 58 Pomeroy Terrace, Northampton.  This session will include special guests, Fred Smith of St. Francis House in Boston and Rosa Blair, a property manager from Springfield, both with extensive experience in housing sex offenders.  It will also include discussion of first steps on a local action plan around the issue.  Please contact Pamela Schwartz at [email protected] if you are interested in learning more about this effort or attending the March 14th meeting.

Below are minutes from our working group meeting of 2/8/12

Housing Sex Offenders Working Group – February 8, 2012

In attendance:  Nick Albano, Hampden County Sherrif’s Department, Carl Cignoni, Hampshire Sherriff’s Department, Steve Connor, Veterans Services, Joe Critelli, Hampden County Sherriff’s Department, Danielle DeBerry, ServiceNet, Ellie Harris, ServiceNet, Richard Hendrick, Eliot-CHS Homeless Services,  Hwei-Ling Greeney, Amherst Community Connections, Laurie Guidry, MASOC, Sgt. Anne McMahon, Northampton Police Dept., Marie McNeil, VA Central/Western MA, Kelly Przypek, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Robin Powell, Pamela Schwartz, network coordinator, Reikka Simula Gooden, Housing for All, Laurie Smith, ServiceNet                                                                                                                              

Debrief on 2/1 Summit:

Robin Powell: heard from Bill Toller of Diocese of Springfield:  “best training he had ever been to” – Laurie’s presentation phenomenal.  Looking forward to partnering.   Will invite Bill Toller to team.

Richard Hendrick:  looking forward to when landlords get to hear Laurie’s presentation directly – they are the people we need to reach.

Steve Connor:  At meeting in Boston and heard how excited people were about our region tackling this issue.  Feels it could be a model.

Hwei-Ling Greeney:  wished we gave more opportunity for faith leaders to speak and get their feedback on what they needed.  When look at Amherst town hall bulletin, sees pictures of 5 sex offenders.  When such a small number, why should faith leaders get involved?  What is our answer to that?

Laurie Guidry:   The pictures posted are only “Level 3’s.”  Issue is far broader.  And issue for faith leaders is both how to keep community safe and provide appropriate guidance to all sex offenders.

Discussion:  how we meet congregational needs to protect/screen/support while staying focused on this group’s ultimate goal of housing.

In response to concerns/questions raised at 2/1 meeting, Laurie, Joe Critelli (Hampden County Sherriff’s Dept.) and Joan Tabachnik of MASOC have agreed to work together  to provide guidance to clergy on questions to ask, e.g., what is your level, where do you live, etc.  We need to find a way to offer resources, to continue to get people invested, while staying focused on our mission.

Must start to explore options.  With all resources at the table, what are our short and long term goals to build housing options.

1.       Identify what is working, starting resources.

2.       Identify relationships we can cultivate.

Strive for small successes – good placement of a single tenant – then we create another resource.  At the same time, we look at longer term alternatives, e.g., grants, working with landlords.

Discussion of focus on affordable housing organizations, e.g., HAP, Home City Housing, Valley CDC, and their limits on housing sex offenders.  Must also consider HUD limits.

Agreed:  Laurie agreed to generate talking points, plus FAQ,  so we can all be on the same page as we’re in one-on-one outreach meetings.

Agreed:  Working group members will provide Pamela and Laurie their answers to the questions posed above:  what relationships do you have that are good starting points for further inroads (e.g., with landlords, realty associations); what are your starting resources.  Hwei-Ling also suggested we identify concrete gaps and barriers.  Pamela and Laurie will organize info to create draft action plan that we will submit back at our next meeting prior to our 3/14 Summit Part II to share with our larger community.  From 3/14, we will invite all attendees to participate in our working group (merge two efforts so we are meeting just monthly!).

On question of whether landlords should attend 3/14 meeting:  not quite yet. Agreed to videotape 3/14 meeting (with Fred Smith and Rosa Blair speaking) in service of landlord outreach later.

Also consider having our group serve as a referral resource for clergy searching for housing for members.  Discussed REACH meetings and the resource they could offer in that regard.  Will make time on next meeting agenda to focus on this piece.

Agreed:  our outreach for 3/14 will focus on getting those who attended to return.  Pamela will do one-on-one follow-up and everybody who recruited somebody there is asked to follow-up as well.

Next meeting:  March 6, 11:30, am, Northampton (DMH location to be confirmed)

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