Halfway gone

Is there a take-home from the failed attempt to build a halfway house in south Sacramento?

Independent reporting for this story is funded by a grant from Sacramento Emergency Foodlink.

Neighborhood residents called it a victory. One company called it a “shame.”

However you put it, the Sacramento County Planning Commission’s denial of a 50-bed halfway house in south Sacramento left everyone asking how to best serve the community’s former inmates.

The first issue was one of respect. Planning Commission chairman Alex Laiewski noted, after the 3-1 vote against the plan, that Behavioral Systems Southwest, the group applying for the permit, made little to no efforts to assuage residents’ worries about a halfway house entering their already struggling neighborhood.

In fact, neither BSS nor the office of Sacramento County Supervisor Jimmie Yee, who represents the neighborhood, approached residents to address their concerns in the early stages of planning. They dealt only with the local business district and the Community Planning Advisory Council.

But residents attended Planning Commission meetings, gave impassioned pleas and made it quite clear that their voices were not being heard.

“The community deserves to be part of the planning,” Laiewski said after the vote, “and I just feel there was a lack of that in this process.”

SN&R walked the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard neighborhood last week and discovered a number of different perspectives on what could have been a fortifying topic of discourse for the community.

Robin Vincent, a longtime resident, said she wouldn’t have a problem with a halfway house. “Everybody deserves a second chance,” said Vincent, who said she has family that has gone through the system. She did add, however, that she would not approve of a facility which was populated with sex offenders.

But another resident, Lalla Perez, said that the safety of the neighborhood’s children should be brought into the conversation.

Neighbor Larry Williams asked why the county would decide to put a halfway house in the heart of an already “downtrodden neighborhood.”

Attorney Toni Carbone of Ascend, a program that takes a cognitive-behavioral approach to criminal rehabilitation, said that she is always nervous about sending clients to halfway houses in crime-heavy neighborhoods. Former inmates need to place themselves in what she calls a “pro-social network,” and neighborhoods such as MLK Boulevard and 43rd Avenue provide the opposite.

“There’s too much crime around them,” said Carbone, “and they’re already struggling internally on how to change their lives.”

Supervisor Yee, after hearing constituents’ concerns, told SN&R that he would not support the halfway-house permit if BSS appeals to the Planning Commission.

Ascend’s Carbone said that one in an area such as Carmichael would be better for former inmates than the south Sacto community. But therein lies the issue: Wealthier communities will be more effective in tamping out plans for halfway houses in their neighborhoods. So, where can the former inmates go?

“That’s a big nut to crack,” Yee said.