Thursday, January 06, 2005

Building, selling of house will benefit program for those released from jail

The house will be built near the Villages at Lincoln by inmates.

A home being built in a Roanoke neighborhood will raise money for a program that helps released convicts adjust to life outside.

Officials with the Roanoke Sheriff's Office, the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority and Total Action Against Poverty joined Wednesday to break ground on the construction project near the Villages at Lincoln public housing community in Northwest Roanoke.

The planned house is TAP President Ted Edlich's attempt to revitalize the flagging finances of the Virginia CARES program.

"We're struggling to keep VA CARES alive," Edlich said. "TAP is looking for a revenue stream."

VA CARES is the department of TAP that helps to integrate ex-offenders into society. The program offers counseling and referrals and helps former inmates find jobs and homes. VA CARES has helped inmates for more than 30 years, and 70 percent of participants do not return to jail. Edlich said he hoped the project would attract more government funding for the organization.

The housing authority donated the approximately 1,200-square-foot vacant lot to TAP, and inmates from the Roanoke City Jail will provide free labor. TAP is paying for building materials and the cost of plumbers and electricians, all of which will cost between $60,000 and $65,000, said TAP Program Manager Correlli Rasheed, who manages VA CARES. The house should sell for approximately $80,000.

"When Ted came to us with this vision, we jumped on it," said Earl Reynolds Jr., the deputy executive director of the housing authority. "This is what we do."

Rasheed said he hoped the profit from the house would be as much as $20,000 but said the realistic amount is between $10,000 and $15,000. The money will go back into the VA CARES program and help ex-offenders, perhaps even some of the inmates who helped build the house.

"It's a win for VA CARES that we're building on a relationship with the law," Edlich said at a news conference Wednesday. "Roanoke is known for its collaboration, and this is a fine example of collaboration."

Construction on the foundations of the house starts this month and, weather permitting, will be completed by May 1, said Sheriff George McMillan. McMillan said there are six crews of inmates available to work on the three-bedroom house, but only seven or eight inmates will work on it at any given time. McMillan said he thought the collaboration was an excellent idea.

"This is the first venture of this type that I'm aware of," he said. "It's a perfect match-up, a perfect fit."

State Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, said the construction project was an excellent way for inmates to rehabilitate. He stressed the need to focus more on rehabilitation than punishment for offenders.

"The theory that all inmates in jail are lazy and don't want to work is not true, and this group is testimony to that," he said while gesturing at a group of inmates.

According to the sheriff's office, crews from the Roanoke Sheriff's Office Inmate Community Work Program completed more than 1,000 jobs for the city and saved taxpayers almost half a million dollars. The program allows inmates to gain job skills.

For TAP, the collaboration among the three organizations was an original way to obtain more funding as well as help inmates.

"Our budget seemed to have been cut every year and we needed a creative program," Rasheed said. "This is a way to do that." While the housing authority usually contracts with a local builder, TAP simply took up the responsibility instead.

TAP has been in financial difficulties for the past 10 years, according to Rasheed, who said the organization is not alone in its sufferings. He said it was necessary to supplement the budget reductions.

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