Downtown Claremont building eyed for transitional housing for inmates

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, May 23, 2019

CLAREMONT — Sullivan County officials have identified a potential new location for transitional housing for 30 former inmates who have completed their sentences and required programs and are ready for the next step toward re-entering society.

Jeff Barrette, chairman of the Sullivan County Commissioners, told the City Council on Wednesday they are considering 19 Sullivan St., a former newspaper office a block from Opera House Square, but have to first determine the cost to renovate the property before moving forward.

Barrette said the county has begun preliminary discussions with city officials and have hired an architect to start the design process and provide estimates to renovate the building.

This is the third site the county has looked at since 2016. The first location at 169 Main St., was determined to be too expensive to renovate and the second site, the Junior Sports League building, was abandoned after residents living around the School Street property objected to the plans.

Barrette said they want to first determine the feasibility of using 19 Sullivan St. and seeing whether the “numbers work.”

Built in 1930, the two-story building has a living area of 8,170 square feet, according to the city’s assessing records. It was the home to the Eagle Times until about 1990. It is currently owned by Franklin and Main Properties of Cornish and is assessed at $364,600.

Barrette said they expect to have cost estimates in July and then would apply for a community development block grant. If the CDBG is approved, construction could start in January and the facility opened later in 2020. The county delegation of state representatives would have to approve the expenditure, Barrette added.

Estimates to renovate 169 Main St. were more than $1 million.

The county, as a government entity, does not need Planning Board approval but is required to bring the proposal to the board to allow for public input, Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill told the council.

Councilor Scott Pope urged county officials at the meeting, including Superintendent of Corrections Dave Berry and Department of Corrections Program Director Donna Magee, to begin reaching out to businesses in the area to discuss the plans. Most of the buildings around 19 Sullivan St. are commercial properties, though there are homes on Sullivan Street and a large apartment building almost directly across the street.

Merrill said it is important to have a location that is within walking distance of services because the residents in the transitional housing lack reliable transportation.

“There are residential homes, but it is mostly mixed use,” Merrill said. “I think it is a much better location. But it won’t be inexpensive.”

Barrette said the plan is to have 20 male and 10 female residents, all of whom must have completed the county’s Transitional Reentry and Inmate Life Skills program at the jail and be ready to move into the dedicated housing.

The facility would have a corrections officer on staff 40 hours a week and a live-in recovery coach the remainder of the hours each week.

Inmates convicted of violent crimes would not be eligible for transitional housing, county officials have said.

County officials said again at the council meeting that transitional housing is the missing link in their efforts to reduce the number of inmates who end up back in jail because of a relapse. They can provide medical assistance, counseling and a variety of other services but not housing, which forces many to return to the places that got them in trouble originally.

In a slide presentation by Berry and Magee, it was stated that 43 percent of the TRAILS participants have either “unstable or no stable” living arrangements.

“I was amazed it was this high,” Magee said.

National relapse rates are around 64% without “sober housing” but the expected outcome drops to between 4% and 6% after 12 months of sober housing, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse presented by Berry and Magee.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.