WESTBROOK — Residents Tuesday night finally received answers about the State Street group home for former juvenile offenders, but are still upset about how the project was communicated to them.
Around 25 people attended a community meeting held by the Opportunity Alliance on March 21. The organization announced the meeting last week in response to the negative feedback it has been receiving about the RISE Project, which was formerly called Project RISE.
On Tuesday, the Opportunity Alliance announced an open house at the RISE Project, located at 6 State St. Although the home isn’t move-in ready yet, neighbors are invited to come see the property on April 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will also be an April 11 community meeting at 6 p.m. at the Westbrook Police Department.
The RISE Project, a joint project between The Opportunity Alliance and the Maine Department of Corrections, will house youth transitioning out of the Long Creek Youth Development Center. The four-bedroom home will house six men ages 18-21 and will be staffed 24 hours a day. An opening date has not been set yet.
Several neighbors at Tuesday’s meeting said The Opportunity Alliance hasn’t been transparent about the project, and that they wish the organization had provided information about it from the beginning.
“You just blew our neighborhood’s mind,” said Mike Fusco of State Street. “Our quality of life took a slight hit.”
Last month the Opportunity Alliance told the American Journal the organization had already been meeting with State Street residents to discuss the project and had received a favorable response, but neighbors refuted this.
On Tuesday, representatives from the Opportunity Alliance said they plan to be more open as the project continues to move forward.
“We want to have a two-way relationship,” the chief program officer, Joe Everett, told the neighbors. “We want to hear from you. That’s how we get better.”
Neighbors on Tuesday asked many questions, mostly regarding who will be in the home and how the neighborhood will remain safe.
The young men participating in the RISE Project have to apply for the program and prove they are capable of being successful in it. Colin O’Neill, the associate commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, said it’s “geared towards high-functioning young adults who have been engaged in their programs (at Long Creek).”
The Opportunity Alliance said the men have to be demonstrating that they are using what they’re learning from the programs at Long Creek. They need to complete their programs and high school level schooling to be chosen for the RISE Project. The only crimes that make a person ineligible for the program are arson and sexual violence.
The men who will be chosen for the home already work off-grounds from Long Creek and have been monitored to see how they’ve handled the responsibility of being given that amount of freedom.
O’Neill said the RISE Project is crucial for helping the young men transition back into society.
“We wanted to provide a structural environment for those youth that’s not confinement,” he said.
Sending youth offenders back into society without a support system can be dangerous, O’Neill said.
“It’s a recipe for potential failure and potential risk to re-offend,” he said.
Many people at Tuesday’s meeting were concerned about the men in the group home re-offending and causing trouble in their neighborhood. O’Neill said the rate of recidivism in the first year out of confinement is 36 percent.
“I know it won’t be a 100 percent success rate, but I hope that 1 percent isn’t something tragic,” Fusco said.
The house will be staffed by three Opportunity Alliance employees, and a member of the police department has been assigned as a liaison to the project. Additionally, parole officers will be checking in on the men on a regular basis.
As part of the RISE Project, the young men will have to be employed or be working towards higher education. Within the home they will be working on basic life skills, such as laundry, cooking, and managing finances. The young men will also be taken to events in Westbrook and surrounding towns to keep them engaged in the community.
Everett said the average stay at the group home will be six months. During that time, the Opportunity Alliance staff will be helping the young men transition back into society and will assist them in finding housing and other support systems.
“It’s a piece of work we have a lot of expertise in,” Everett said. “This particular work is important to us.”
Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.
The Opportunity Alliance will be holding an open house April 1 at 6 State St. so neighbors can tour the RISE Project, a group home for young men transitioning out of Long Creek Youth Development Center.