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April 28, 2008 ­ Saginaw News (MI)

Outcry Over Halfway House

By Justin Engel, Saginaw News

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Mary C. Washington labels herself a proud resident of a Northeast Side Saginaw community that's home to a school and a General Motors Corp. foundry.

A 37-year resident in the district, Washington is a community affairs specialist for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and president of the 100-member Northeast Saginaw Neighborhood Association.

But things are changing. For her. For the neighborhood.

Washington and many of her neighbors are enraged that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will build a halfway house for former federal prisoners there.

''I'm not going to stay here,'' said Washington, who said she won't stomach the new neighbors. ''Before I move, though, I'm going to put up a fight.''

The location is the northeast corner of Norman and Leon Scott, in the shadow of Saginaw Metal Casting Operations, 1639 N. Washington, and the heart of the area neighbors for years have pushed City Hall to revitalize.

Neighbors point out that just a block east of the construction site 454 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students attend Arthur Eddy Academy, 1000 Cathay.

Although railroad tracks, brush and a Norman Street overpass for Veterans Memorial Parkway separate the two properties, Washington says she is outraged that Saginaw leaders would approve a halfway house so near a school without better informing the community.

''We knew nothing about it until a few days ago,'' Washington said. ''How could you do something like that?''

The plan wasn't kept from the public.

During a Nov. 5 City Council meeting -- a gathering that largely featured members of the praising then-Mayor Carol B. Cottrell and then-Mayor Pro Tem Wilmer Jones Ham McZee during their last week on council -- members discussed a Planning Commission decision to approve the building of the site, city records indicate.

Larry Coulouris, Saginaw's mayor pro tem and a representative on the Planning Commission, insists city planners weren't trying to shut out input.

''No one was trying to take advantage of anyone here,'' he said.

Now crews are set to build a 5,000-square-foot structure there to house 38 former prisoners as they make the transition to the workforce.

Today, the property is an open field with heavy construction equipment, waiting to begin building the house. Records don't indicate when construction workers will complete the task.

Coulouris said the Federal Bureau of Prisons contracted a private company to oversee the facility once it's built.

Washington said the private company set to run the prisoner re-entry operation is Bannum Inc. A Florida-based company with the same name has various sites across the nation.

In 2005, at one of its halfway homes in Washington, D.C., someone gunned down a 33-year-old resident, The Washington Post reported.

Washington fears a similar incident could shake her fragile neighborhood.

''How is anyone going to be able to sell their house knowing what's next door?'' she said. ''Why would anyone want to move here?''

She said her watchdog group and the Saginaw Housing Commission were working together to turn nearby Unity Park into a site for baseball leagues. The park is near the construction site.

''We were planning a lot of things,'' said Duane Walker, the commission's executive director. ''It's all up in the air now.''

Walker also is upset with city leaders for not doing a better job of informing residents there.

''It would seem the moral high ground would be to alert the neighbors,'' he said.

It's unclear if or when city officials notified residents in the neighborhood of the Planning Commission decision. Coulouris said he plans to research the November decision today after the City Council meets for a special gathering at 9 a.m. at the Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw.

Washington, meanwhile, plans to organize a neighborhood meeting later this week to discuss the halfway house and possible solutions.

She's hoping for support from community leaders, church figures and school officials.

''Everybody should be involved, from people on all sides of town,'' she said. ''This is all citizens' problem.''

Justin Engel is a Saginaw News staff writer. Call him at 776-9691.

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