Today our little neighborhood, a few blocks in a corner of East Liberty called Mellon's Orchard, got some very good news. We learned that our efforts to stop the federal probation office from renovating and housing 20 ex-offenders in an property on our block was successful. From the beginning the Federal Marshal's office and Federal Probation office were acting unfairly toward the residence of the neighborhood. We didn't find out about the plans until it was too late to do much but protest. The idea of having ex-offenders in our neighborhood is not the issue. The issue, at least for me, was the concentration of 20+ of them in a property touching my property. It is quite literally in our back yard. While I don't want to be a "not in my backyard type of person", no one living in our neighborhood felt it was fair to house such a high concentration of ex-offenders on a residential street. There are some appartment buildings near us, but most of the properties are houses owned by both white and African American families. After a few meetings with the head probation officer it was clear that they had no intention of partnering with the neighborhood to scale down their plans. As a neighborhood we had decided that we would work with them if they were willing to partner with us. We weren't only acting for selfish reasons, sociology has shown that these kinds of housing projects don't work for reintegration. They only stigmatize and separate. In the end the federal probation office threw in the towel on the project. Big government backed down to a few people who care about their neighborhood. I'm proud of our neighborhood.
I must say though that I feel for the inmates who have such trouble finding housing after jail. Many of the Christians in our neighborhood have become more aware of this problem through our fight to keep this particular housing program out. But we are now willing to work with those who want to work with us to provide housing opportunities that will not put our families and homes in jeopardy. Here's a quote from one of our neighborhood leaders, "Ted (head federal probation officer) expressed to me a serious interest in engaging ELDI (East Liberty Development Incorporated) in an effort to place his clients into existing market rental housing or other housing projects in the East Liberty area. I think we should seriously consider ways that we can help open our neighborhood to such reintegration of our neighbors' children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters who are returning to rebuild their lives after prison." I hope that we, especially the Christians in this neighborhood, will move forward with these kinds of visions to help those exiting prison. I hope Ted has learned that it's better to work with a good neighborhood not behind their backs, and I hope we can prove that we do care and we will work with them in the future.