Felon services grant looks suspicious
KATHLEEN MERRYMAN; THE NEWS TRIBUNE
The people trying to defend Tacoma from a $1.1 million grant have gotten a brief reprieve.
Juli Wilkerson, director of the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, has agreed to wait until Feb. 1 to sign an agreement to pay Citizens for Responsible Justice to house and provide social services for 70 high-risk, high-needs felons coming out of prison.
That’s good news. The more we learn about Citizens for Responsible Justice – C4RJ, for short – and its grant application, the more questions we have about its commitment to a safe community. And the more we question the state’s commitment to correcting a decades-old practice of funneling felons into Pierce County with little regard for how it’s affecting our neighborhoods.
C4RJ has a history of deafness to Tacomans’ concerns.
In 2005, before we won the state Fair Share promise, some Tacomans were struggling for the same deal for their neighborhoods. They demanded that the city abide by its Comprehensive Plan’s Fair Share policy against adding services for high-risk, high-needs individuals in areas already saturated with them. They even won a moratorium on new services in the abused neighborhoods.
C4RJ blew that off.
It found a property and a loophole, and defied the neighbors’ pleas that it not open a house for more than 20 newly released felons on 11th Street.
Since then, it’s added felons. On its application to the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, it lists 28 residents, each paying rent of $225 to $425 per month.
Although its application claimed partnerships with law enforcement, it had no working relationship with community groups or the police until a meeting earlier this month.
Although it’s been required to have a business license since it opened in 2005, Jodie Trueblood, manager of Tacoma’s Finance Tax & License Division, found no record of one. The city has sent three letters about that and received no response.
The city also is looking into all 13 of the 14 homes C4RJ operates or lists as residential resources on its grant application. The 14th is in Parkland.
“The community has complained about these properties, and we want to take a comprehensive look at them,” said Lisa Wojtanowicz, Tacoma’s assistant director for building and land-use services.
The city will be checking whether the houses are all licensed as rental properties, whether they comply with zoning restrictions, fire and building codes, and whether police are concerned about calls for service.
There are questions as to whether the houses meet occupancy standards.
According to the C4RJ application, a home operated by House of Vision at 3715 S. Wilkeson St. has 10 residents, each paying monthly rent of $410. According to the Pierce County Assessor’s Web site, it has three bedrooms, 1.75 baths and 1,042 square feet of living space. That’s 104 square feet per person, more than three adult men per bedroom, more than five men per bathroom, and a rental income of $4,100.
In fact, there are questions as to whether some houses on C4RJ’s application should be there at all.
That application lists three addresses – 2118 S. M St., 1902 S. M St. and 1812 Martin Luther King Jr. Way – with five beds each. It includes those houses, operated by Action Association Counseling Services, in the 140 beds it assures the state it has access to for the grant program.
But the Rev. Allen CeBrun, clinical director of counseling services and owner of the home at 2118 S. M St., said Thursday that his group has no agreement with C4RJ to provide housing at those sites. Those houses, he said, are for women and children dealing with addiction or abuse. He does not place felons referred by the Department of Corrections in them, and he will not place felons through C4RJ.
“I said I will offer outpatient drug and alcohol treatment,” CeBrun said. “I was just the drug-and-alcohol piece.”
The story was the same with at least one of the seven agencies C4RJ listed on its grant application among its “support groups and services” on its “working agreement with the partnership with C4RJ and Global Outreach Distribution.”
That list included Rebuilding Families Inc./WIN.
That was news to Audrey Shaw, vice president of Rebuilding Families Inc.
“If agency connections are described as being on C4RJ’s mailing list, then we may be considered a connection,” she wrote in a Jan. 2 e-mail. “But, we have never had contact with anyone from that organization asking that we collaborate, nor extend our reentry services to any of their clients.”
ARE APPLICATIONS VERIFIED?
All of this raises the question of whether the people handing out $1.1 million grants check their applications. One would hope they would place a few phone calls, even send someone to look at the facilities they’ll be funding.
Officials at the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development said they checked state licenses and paid a visit to the house at 811 and 813 S. 11th St., the one listed with a 28-person capacity.
The Rev. Joy McDonald, a new C4RJ board member, responding to questions about the disputed partnerships, said, “I am meeting with all of the subcontractors.”
McDonald said the board felt it didn’t have to have a business license, since it was a shared living facility, and that no one on the board knew about any letters from the city.
OFFICIALS WILL TAKE A LOOK
Community, Trade and Economic Development officials told me Friday that in response to questions raised about the grant application, they are examining it in more detail.
It would have been impossible, according to the agency, to visit all the sites in the grant. (I’ve managed to at least drive by six of them.)
Had the state team done so, they would have seen that 3597 McKinley Ave., with 12 felons in residence, is less than a block and a half away from McKinley Elementary School.
They might have noticed that 8629 S. Yakima Ave., with 12 resident felons, is just down the street from the back entrance and playground of Fern Hill Elementary.
They could not have missed the fact that the 10 felons living at 2015 E. Gregory St. have a chain-link fence separating their backyard from the Roosevelt Elementary School playground.
The agency trusts the Department of Corrections to place its released felons appropriately. Putting them next door to a school is not against the law, agency officials told me.
Thank you, C4RJ, for including the Gregory Street house in your pilot program to house high-risk, high-needs felons.
Thank you, Department of Corrections, for your concern for Tacoma’s school kids.
As for you, Community, Trade and Economic Development, you have two workweeks to reconsider sending $1.1 million to a community that does not want it.
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677