Claremont Discusses Transitional Housing Plan for Junior Sports League Building

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Claremont — A plan to convert the shuttered Junior Sports League building on School Street to transitional housing for former inmates at the House of Correction was met with a mix of views at a public forum on Tuesday night ranging. Skepticism and downright opposition were blended with a willingness to give the plan a chance to succeed.

Sullivan County Commissioner Chairman Jeff Barrette made it clear to the audience of about 50 during the two-hour forum that nothing has been finalized and a lot of steps remain before the facility could open.

Those steps include a public hearing at tonight’s City Council meeting on selling the brick building to the county.

Additionally, the county is applying for two grants to cover the cost of renovating the building and the city’s Planning Board would need to approve a site plan. The county is also in the process of developing cost estimates to bring the building up to code and make interior modifications for housing. The building was closed in 2014 for code violations and efforts by the city to find a buyer and been unsuccessful.

County Manager Derek Ferland said if the facility is opened, it would probably not happen for 15 to 18 months.

The transitional housing concept, which would be on a volunteer basis only and not court ordered, would provide a supervised setting for between 20 and 30 individuals who have completed life skills training. They would be required to have “40 hour a week commitment” of either work, school or community service, Barrette said.

The housing would not be available to those convicted of violent crimes.

According to Barrette, of the 500 inmates in the jail last year, about half were from Claremont and nearly 80 returned to where they live before their incarceration and were unsupervised upon release. About 25 others are homeless, he added.

Commissioner Ben Nelson said it comes down to either “couch surfing” with people they did drugs with or being in a safe and sober dormitory setting while working and getting treatment.

Some residents were wary of bringing people with a history of substance abuse into a neighborhood that they said has history of drug activity.

Walnut Street resident Debbie Freeman said the JSL is in the middle of a “drug infested” area and she predicted the rate of relapse could actually end up being higher.

“Is that the right environment for people trying to stay sober,” Freeman asked “I think not.”

But resident Jason Benware said he has lived on Spruce Avenuefor 19 years and doesn’t believe the neighborhood has gotten any better during that time.

“I am willing to see how it will work,” Benware said. “I don’t see any negatives.”