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May 9, 2013

Halfway houses under scrutiny

Panel examines facilities’ impact on crime in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN — A perception sometimes exists, rightly or wrongly, that when local halfway houses for convicted criminals or recovering addicts lodge residents of other communities in Johnstown, all the city is doing is taking on somebody else’s problems.

Part of the ad hoc Johnstown Drug and Crime Commission’s mission is to determine if there is any truth behind those feelings.

More specifically, the task belongs to the rehabilitation subcommittee, consisting of chairman Bill McKinney, the Rev. Sylvia King and state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown. Together, they are examining how, if at all, the facilities impact crime and drug use in the city. In the process of conducting research, they have learned about the perceptions by talking to participants in the programs and facility operators.

“I think, from the perspective of the persons that are housed in the facilities, (they have) a perspective on how the community views them and how they’re treated by persons in the community,” said King, pastor of Christ Centered Community Church in Kernville. “We are looking for a win-win situation. The community has to be able to support recovery, but we need to find the best way that we can co-exist together in an environment that will help uplift not only the persons who are in recovery, but help uplift even the community as far as educating them on the pains and the pressures that are involved in a person in recovery and realize that probably all of us have something that we have recovered from or need to recover from, regardless of what it is.”

Members of the subcommittee have met with representatives from Community Corrections Center, a halfway house for convicted criminals on Washington Street, along with two of the city’s substance rehabilitation centers, New Directions of Cove Forge and Renewal Center of Cove Forge.

“I think we got a good understanding of what they do, how they do it,” said McKinney, United Way of the Laurel Highlands president.

“And I think they, meaning the centers, have a good understanding of what the perceptions are of them in our community. I think it’s very helpful and very educational in both ways. I think the communication has been great with our group and these individual centers.”

The vast majority of halfway house residents are from outside Cambria County.

People, at certain stages of their stays, are given permission to go out into the community. Therefore, part of the reason for relocating them to a new city, such as Johnstown, is to get them away from their familiar hometown environments where they picked up the behaviors that originally landed them in trouble.

King has suggested the possibility of having residents participate in a welcome-to-Johnstown kind of meeting in which they would learn about the city before going out into it.

The subcommittee also pointed out that several individuals mentioned they would like to get involved in community service.

“They feel that would give them the opportunity to interact with people in the community, so that people in the community can get to know them because they feel that they’re perceived in a certain light and that is not necessarily who they are,” King said.

The rehabilitation subcommittee will use the information it collects, through interviews and data study, to produce a report.

It will be included in an overall collection of findings that the commission will submit to City Council, containing suggestions on how to address crime issues in Johnstown.

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