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The Feds want to put in a Federal Halfway House several blocks from where I live in Manchester, NH. A lot of residents are very much opposed to the idea... especially when you look at the locations they are considering. Anyone care to weigh in on the effects of such a facility in a city of 120,000 (in 11 sq miles)?

MANCHESTER - Two aldermen are planning community meetings in September meant to prevent a federal halfway house in their wards.

Meanwhile, Bill Shea has written a letter against the proposed Somerville Street site in his Ward 7, while Frank Guinta of Ward 3 has received more than 100 signatures on a Web site he's set up to oppose a halfway house citywide.

Although the board has twice voted against a 20-bed halfway house for federal prisoners, the decision rests with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

And while aldermen are hoping community efforts help block the proposal, the top federal probation officer in New Hampshire said they are not the only factor the Bureau of Prisons will weigh.

"The community meeting is but one part of the process," said chief U.S. Probation Officer Thomas Tarr. "I haven't been to one where the community said, 'Hey, what's taken you so long.'"

No dates have been set for the meetings, which Guinta and Shea, the chairman of the board, are looking into separately.

Nancy Pappas, the director of community relations for one of two nonprofits proposing sites, said despite the initial community opposition, the case can be made for a halfway house.

Community Solutions Inc. is planning to invest $500,000 at 335 Somerville St., and would have at least two employees monitoring those in the program at all times, Pappas said.

"Would you like to go on a little field trip and see the way the buildings look, are maintained - even meet with some of the people here?" said Pappas, whose Windsor, Conn.-based nonprofit runs five halfway houses, including three facilities with federal prisoners. "It's not as scary when you see it up close."

Community Solution's proposal is a switch from an earlier Lowell Street site. Boston-based Community Resources for Justice is looking at 1490-92 Elm St., which is in Guinta's ward.

"They don't want it in Ward 7," said Shea, whose letter of opposition went last week to the Bureau of Prisons. "I'm going to build a community effort against it, and have as many people come out against it as want."

Guinta said his Web site, www.keepmanchestersafe.com, had received about 125 responses to an online petition by Friday. Some came from Raymond, Concord or neighboring towns, but 95 percent are residents throughout the city, he said.

The petition will be given to police Chief John Jaskolka and the aldermanic board, Guinta said, and then likely be sent on to the Bureau of Prisons to document the opposition.

Mayor Robert Baines also weighed in with a letter of opposition, last week reminding the Bureau of the aldermen's votes and community outcry -while inviting them to meet with city officials to explain where the proposals stand.

"The citizens of Manchester have many unanswered questions around such a facility and why one needs to be located in Manchester," Baines wrote.

Community fervor has already paid dividends once, when in May a meeting with concerned residents led to Community Resources for Justice dropping a proposal in Pinardville at Edmond Street Terrace.

Tarr said there is a "silent majority" who recognize the value of halfway houses, which allow prisoners to serve the remaining months of their sentences while getting jobs, treatment and savings accounts. He said prisoners will be returning regardless.

"What you have there now are unofficial halfway houses down in the city," Tarr said. "And I know they don't want to hear that: All we're saying is let's do it better."

The new locations are locked in, with a decision likely sometime at the end of the year, Tarr said.

In the coming months, the Bureau will send representatives to tour the sites and consider their facilities, the neighborhoods they are in and how close they are to transportation and services.

Alderman George Smith, whose Ward 10 includes Edmond Street Terrace, said he doesn't know how far community concern will go citywide, but that it worked in his neighborhood.

"We organized and we got a couple businesses in the area together," Smith said. "After the hearing, I think they thought it was in their best interests just to drop it altogether."

Smith added, "The program is a good program, but nobody wants it in their back yard."

Like Smith, At-large Alderman Dan O'Neil defended the proposal when aldermen first discussed it. O'Neil also said he recognizes residents are opposed.

"I don't think - no matter where they put it in the city - it will get support," O'Neil said. "The city's position is clear."

A halfway house would eventually go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, O'Neil said, something that alone could prove prohibitive.

"In normal conditions - forget this project - it is very difficult to get a variance," O'Neil said.
 
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