Plan for Dayton halfway house ignites controversy

Supporters say crime reduced when treatment centers open.Some South Park residents opposed to facilty for nearly 40 women.

A proposal to open a halfway house for female ex-convicts in historic South Park has sparked controversy and faces opposition from some residents.

Alvis, a nonprofit human services agency, wants to create a residential treatment center for about 40 women who are on probation or parole. The proposed site is on the 800 block of Wayne Avenue and is owned by Daybreak, which is relocating its services.

Alvis officials said Montgomery County lacks halfway homes for women offenders, the fastest-growing segment of the criminal justice population.

When Alvis treatment facilities move into a neighborhood, they reduce crime and other problems because they are staffed around the clock, employ off-duty police officers and have surveillance cameras and other security features, said Denise Robinson, president and CEO of the agency, based in Columbus.

But some residents said South Park already struggles with crime and drugs and adding this high-risk population could exacerbate those issues while making it harder to attract new residents and commercial tenants.

Tom Ostendorf, an owner of more than 20 properties in the neighborhood, said he will circulate a petition demanding Alvis not be allowed to move in.

“How do I tell my tenants — who are going to move into a building at the corner of Hickory and Wayne — ‘Oh, it’s OK, it’s just ex-convicts living next door to you,’” he said.

On Wednesday night, Alvis representatives attended a South Park neighborhood meeting at Hope Lutheran Church to present their plans to open a halfway house at Alma’s Place on Wayne Avenue.

Daybreak closed its residential program for youths at the building in September.

Alvis operates a facility at 42 Arnold Place in Dayton that is the only licensed, certified treatment program in Montgomery County for female convicts, staff said. But the facility has only three beds.

Each year, about 172 female convicts from Montgomery County are released from prison, and currently they must seek treatment in other counties, said Phil Nunes, chief program officer for Alvis.

“That’s probably why Montgomery County sends so many women to prison, because there is no other alternative … (except for) the community-based correctional facility in town,” he said.

About 51 percent of people released from prison return to prison within a year for breaking the law or violating the terms of their release, Nunes said.

But, he said, about 79 percent of Alvis’ clients do not return to the criminal justice system even three years after release, and the recidivism rate for women, specifically, is even lower.

He said the agencies’ evidence-based treatment models are highly successful and help ex-cons make the most of second chances.

Alvis officials claim their facilities clean up neighborhoods because they partner with the local community and law enforcement and they demand accountability from clients.

“We are not the problem … we are the solution to your issues,” Dionne Jenkins, managing director of Alvis’ agency programs, told the audience.

Agency officials said they looked at a handful of properties across the Dayton area, and the Daybreak facility best meets their needs.

But some residents complained that the proposed halfway house is too large and inappropriate for the neighborhood. The facility likely will have 40 clients and 15 staff.

Neighbors said South Park is on the upswing, welcoming new residents and families who are helping transform the neighborhood. Citizens said new businesses are setting up shop along Wayne Avenue, and adding convicted criminals as neighbors could hinder revitalization efforts.

A woman who has lived on Hickory Street for 11 years said it makes no sense to open a halfway house in an area that is a hotbed of drug trafficking.

“You are bringing high-risk people right into the target zone,” she said.

The neighborhood for years had problems related to a group home, which was shut down last year after numerous police calls and health inspectors got involved.

Neighbors also complained that Dayton is selected for facilities serving at-risk populations, services that never move into more affluent suburbs, like Kettering and Oakwood.

Ostendorf, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said there are much better uses for the Daybreak building, which has historic character in a historic district.

He said he owns a few buildings on the same block, and Alma’s Place can be redeveloped and serve a more useful and beneficial business purpose.

“I don’t think that is the best use of South Park,” he said. “I think what you’re doing is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t need to be in a historic district.”

South Park’s executive board is collecting and considering feedback from residents and will likely make a recommendation on the proposal. The recommendation will be sent to the city.

Alvis has to appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals to request a zoning variance because the facility has limited parking. Alvis officials said their clients do not drive and the parking variance should be granted.

Some South Park residents said Alvis could be a good neighbor and a positive presence in the neighborhood. One resident pointed out that Daybreak, which serves troubled teens, was poorly received when it first tried to move into South Park decades ago.

Jim and Christiane Badger, who live on Adams Street, said they support the plan and praised the service Alvis provides.

Christiane Badger said she relocated from Yellow Springs because, “I am sick and tired of progressive people closing the doors on people who need a stable neighborhood.”

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