Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Druid Hills residents oppose ex-offender ministry program at Carraway

Published: Monday, November 22, 2010, 11:26 PM ??? Updated: Monday, November 22, 2010, 11:29 PM

Druid Hills residents on Monday voted against a proposal by an ex-offender ministry program to place a "ministry mall," including residential programs for former prisoners and recovering drug addicts, at the former Carraway Medical Center campus.

"I think they were overwhelmed by the scope of the project," said Charlie L. Williams Jr., president of the Druid Hills Neighborhood Association, which voted 19-0 against the project.

The Rev. Andrew Jenkins, executive director of the ministry, called The Village, said his group wants to revitalize the property by locating a variety of social services under one roof. There also would be long-term housing that would include, in the first year, as many as 40 non-violent former prisoners, 25 recovering drug addicts and others such as college interns working with the program and missionaries in between assignments.

The plan also calls for building single-family houses on out parcels and attracting new business, such as a grocery store to the northern end of the 30-acre Carraway campus.

About 50 people attended the meeting in the sanctuary at St. John Baptist Church, where Jenkins outlined the proposal. Residents seemed to be most concerned about the prisoner re-entry program, saying it would be detrimental to the community.

"We always want to help people fallen on bad times, said Martha Bozeman, a resident of nearby Central City who grew up in Druid Hills, and whose father still lives there. "But we're worried about the safety of our children and our property values."

Jenkins said residents are non-violent offenders trying to get their lives back in order. He said they would be closely supervised and would be required to hold a job. If a job was not available, then that resident would be required to do 40 hours of community service work in the area.

He noted that in the last three years, The Village has worked with about 300 former prisoners in other locations, and only three have gone back to jail.

Birmingham City Councilman Johnathan Austin, who represents the area, said the idea is worthy, but he will oppose The Village moving to Carraway.

"It's not going to happen as long as I am here and I will do all I can" to prevent it moving to Carraway, Austin said.

Residents noted that the Salvation Army has also proposed moving some of its operations, including a homeless shelter, from downtown to Norwood, a neighborhood adjacent to Druid Hills.

L&B Realty Advisors, a Dallas-based company that owns the Carraway campus, has not been able to attract another buyer in the health care industry, said the company's Jon Foulger. Efforts to interest other potential buyers, such as senior citizen housing, have failed.

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