SPOKANE, Wash. - Whether or not most people would like to acknowledge it, 96 percent of people in prison will eventually get out and they will move into our neighborhoods. That includes sex offenders. But, one man in Spokane says his neighborhood is housing more than its fair share of those offenders.
Kelly Cruz has lived his entire life in West Central Spokane. He was there before the railroads moved out and before Kendall Yards moved in. He knows many in Spokane have a negative view of the community he loves, referring to it as "felony flats." And, he's determined to change its reputation.
"[I have] concerns about, particularly five houses in the neighborhood where they are - for a lack of a better term - warehousing sex offenders," Cruz said.
As head of the Cops West shop, Cruz has made it his mission to change the landscape.
He reached out to KXLY about a program that allows sex offenders to live in homes with the state paying their rent. It's called the Housing Voucher Program. Offenders who qualify and get out of prison early because of good behavior can use the program to get back on their feet. The state will pay up to $500 a month in rent for up to three months.
The houses are all over the state, with several clustered in west central Spokane: four houses on West Gardner, one on West Dean, one on Indiana and one just across Monroe on North Lincoln, which houses 13 sex offenders under one roof.
"It's just not a safe situation for anybody," Cruz said.
Cruz has taken his concerns to the Department of Corrections, who sat down with kxly4 to explain the program.
"This clustering is not isolated to west central," said Robert Story, housing program administrator. "It's not isolated to Spokane, it's a problem across the state."
The program was born out of the 2008 recession, as a way to save state dollars. That's because it costs about $3,000 a month to keep offenders in prison; this program costs $500 a month for only three months.
But, what about safety?
"The alternative, for many, is homelessness," Story said. "That's the absolute scary part."
Studies show homeless offenders are most likely to re-offend, not to mention harder to track. Community Corrections Officer Jason Lerch says the housing voucher program makes his job monitoring sex offenders easier.
"They typically have a house manager on site that oversees and helps minimize conflict in the home." Lerch said of the homes, which are also clean and sober. "They notify us when issues arise."
Lerch ran the numbers and says the seven homes in West Central have actually seen a dramatic drop in 911 calls since the program was implemented.
DOC believes offenders forced into structure means a safer community all around.
"We get the emotion that comes out because there's nothing more heinous than a sex offense," says Community Corrections Supervisor Tracy Engdahl. "But, at the same time, you can drive a person more into deviancy if you don't treat them with respect and give them resources."
Still, Cruz wants to know why it's happening in his neighborhood.
The economic reality: property is cheap. Landlords who buy into this program can get more bang for their buck in neighborhoods like west central where big, old homes are cut up into apartments and they can bring in more rent.
We asked, doesn't that disproportionally impact low-income neighbors. The state simply replied, "absolutely." But, with fewer landlords willing to house offenders, especially sex offenders, the demand is higher than the supply.
That's not a good enough answer for Cruz, who has reached out to city leaders and state lawmakers, hoping for a change.
"We have to dig our heels in and say we're a community, we'll tolerate some of this, we'll take our burden. But, we're not going to be the dumping ground for sex offenders," Cruz said.
Cruz wants the city and state to consider requiring conditional use permits when more than one offender lives in a home. He's working with Karen Stratton on some of those issues; they're planning a meeting in the coming weeks to determine what happens next.
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