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A home of transition

Nonprofit directors lease complex in Bolton to help those just out of jail, prison stay clean
by: Vern Uyetake, Chuck Simpson, director of nonprofit organization Bridges to Change, along with his wife, JoAnn, will run transitional housing for substance abusers coming out of jail in this Willamette Falls Drive apartment complex. Support services are available next door at the Life Support Community Center.

Ex-convicts with substance abuse problems could begin moving into a seven-unit apartment complex across the street from the West Linn Police Department as soon as Oct. 1.

The three-story complex is at 4985 N. Willamette Falls Drive.

The only housing of its kind in West Linn, the complex can include up to 28 men and women with criminal histories and addictions to drugs and alcohol, according to an agreement between the nonprofit Bridges to Change and the Board of Clackamas County Commissioners.

Convicted sex offenders and arsonists as well as the severely mentally ill will be excluded from the housing.

The housing is temporary for each of its tenants who are coming out of prison or jail - they will stay 90 days until they can be transferred to self-sufficient housing.

'The people who are going to be served here are trying to turn their lives around,' said Dewitt Montgomery, owner of the complex. 'Bridges to Change has a good record in helping people move forward.'

Chuck Simpson, director of Bridges to Change, said seven house managers will supervise the tenants at all times and live on-site.

'We run a pretty tight ship,' Simpson said, adding that the tenants will be required to follow the conditions of their probation and parole, participate in recovery and life skills classes and pursue education and/or full-time employment.

They will also have a midnight curfew.

Betty Osburn, vice president of the Bolton Neighborhood Assocation, said the housing wasn't an immediate cause for concern.

'It sounds like it's going to work out very well in our area,' Osburn said. 'Until there are actual problems, I think there will be nothing said in opposition to it.'

Simpson, who also runs Oxford Houses in Portland, said he plans to meet regularly with nearby residents. Oxford Houses are drug-free group homes.

West Linn Police Sgt. Neil Hennelly said he has a 'wait and see' attitude about any problems that might arise from the housing complex and its residents, noting that West Linn has no history of this type of residence to draw from. But he said the program could be a benefit to the community overall.

'There's a definite need in the community for this sort of thing - it'll be servicing the community at large,' Hennelly said. 'It appears it will be well supervised and the people who will be there want to be there. This will help them to get their lives back on track.'

Montgomery and Simpson are still in the process of finalizing their lease contract.

The project is estimated to cost about $270,000 annually to operate. Clackamas County Community Corrections has offered $300,000 in start-up funding, Simpson said.

West Linn City Council members are aware of the project, said city manager Chris Jordan.

Jordan added that city officials don't have a hand in its organization or implementation, but confirmed the building met zoning requirements.

Mark Rasmussen, director of the county's community corrections department, said transitional housing facilities are in high demand.

Simpson said he is confident that those who move into the West Linn complex will return to the community the better for it.

About 80 percent of people who move into a transitional housing facility achieve success, he said.

Each resident will be assigned chores and will become connected to a mentor.

Half of their paycheck will be set aside until they complete the program. After the 90 days are up, the money will be refunded to help the individual move out and become self-sufficient.

Roberta Gray, a former substance abuser who now helps run the Life Support Community Center in West Linn - which is located next door to where the recovering addicts will live - said she believes the housing is a valuable addition to the city.

She said she wishes she lived in a similar facility during the initial stages of her recovery. Instead, Gray moved in and out of six treatment centers.

'I didn't know how to live in a different world. I needed somebody to help me and hold my hand,' she said.

On Monday, Simpson said he has big plans for the structure, which is primed and ready for a new coat of paint.

'We were thinking about what color to paint it,' he said. 'Maybe a pastel yellow, or green ... Something positive.'