“Good neighbor” backlash

“I’m the little guy and they’re strangling me,” groaned Judy Bracamonte. She is the executive director of Warm Winds, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and aid to newly paroled convicts … at least for now.

The ‘they’ that is endangering her position and stoking her agitation is the Alkali Flats Homeowners Association, which has gone into overdrive trying to shut Bracamonte down.

For the past 18 months, Bracamonte says she has been going quietly about her business of offering parolees a home and helping them get back on their feet. Everything has gone smoothly, with no complaints from neighbors—although they didn’t know about it. And now, they do.

Bracamonte’s problems began in November when she tried to tap into funding from Proposition 36, which sends drug users into treatment instead of jail. As part of a city addendum to the proposition, any facility seeking to provide this type of care must first conform to a “good neighbor” policy. This policy basically states that those neighboring homeowners that might be directly affected by the facility must be notified prior to its existence.

Ironically, Bracamonte wasn’t awarded any Prop. 36 funding-she says because the larger agencies got it-but the process alerted neighbors about her program.

“I went to the guy next door, and he asked me to come back on Saturday and talk to him and one homeowner across the street,” she said. “When I got there, there were 11 of them waiting for me. I was like a sitting duck and they wouldn’t listen to me. It was really an abomination.”

Theresa D’Onofrio, a member of the homeowners association, believes the abomination was that it took so long for the neighborhood to learn of the facility’s existence.

“That area is already drug-impacted and already economically depressed. People have worked for years to lift it out of that, and then they walk in, quietly as you please, and don’t say ‘boo’ to anybody,” D’Onofrio said. “We’re already shouldering more than our share. We can’t shoulder anymore in that area because we just can’t afford it.”

The contention has resulted in complaints made to the building’s owner and the Sacramento Planning Commission, meetings organized by the homeowners association, and a Sacramento Bee column on the flap that suggested the parolees be housed at the jail.

Though Bracamonte says she understands the fear, she still can’t abide the hypocrisy: “The people of California voted in Prop. 36, but they want them somewhere else out in the desert, not in their neighborhood.”

Bracamonte said her service is sorely needed. It may not be pretty, but these men and women have paid their debt and need a place to go that will help them integrate themselves back into society.

“Instead of getting all inflamed and stirring up all this noise,” she said, “they need to really look at what we’re doing and they’ll see that we’ve served the community well for the last 18 months, unmolested.