PORTLAND — A new group home for former juvenile offenders could be open in Riverton by March 1.
“To us, it is an opportunity to support young adults who have made mistakes in their lives and served their time,” Opportunity Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Tarpinian said Monday about the home at 1519 Forest Ave.
Plans for the home were approved as a conditional use last September by the city Zoning Board of Appeals.
The new home would be open to residents ages 18-21 who have completed their sentences at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, were nonviolent offenders, and need to transition back to society.
Tarpinian said the home, funded directly by the state Department of Corrections, would provide a supervised environment for the youths for six to nine months as they find work or go to school.
“Our goal is to be good examples to the neighborhood and neighbors and show them there is adequate support and supervision for the youth living next door,” Tarpinian said.
There will be supervision at the home 24 hours, seven days a week, Tarpinian said, and licensed social workers to help residents who are making the transition from incarceration.
The effort is known as the “Realize Independence, Surpass Expectations,” or RISE Project, and had originally been intended for a site in Westbrook at 6 State St. Opportunity Alliance was prepared to buy the home, and the group home fit into the existing zoning.
But neighbors objected, with concerns about the possibility of residents re-offending and what they thought was a lack of transparency in the plans.
In April 2017, Westbrook city councilors amended the zoning to regulate group homes in the City Center District, which would have included the RISE home site. It was only after the home failed a city inspection for its occupancy permit that the new zoning rules could be applied, though.
After the inspection, the Opportunity Alliance dropped its plans and moved on to the home in Riverton.
Zoning Board of Appeals materials from the Sept. 7 meeting do not show any public comment taken about plans to use the home for the RISE Project, but do include a copy of a five-year lease between the nonprofit and property owner Janwillem Musters, with a base rent of more than $3,500 per month.
Tarpinian said The Opportunity Alliance met with neighbors twice before the hearing with the ZBA.
The reality is the RISE Project and its guidance provide a safer environment for all, Tarpinian said.
“People are discharged (from Long Creek) every day and there is no tether on them per se,” he said. “(Here) they are getting and receiving far more supervision than probably the average teen in the neighborhood.”
Tarpinian said the home is designed for people who have served their sentences, but may not want to return home for a variety of personal, family or safety reasons. The structure and supervision are there for reintegration and can prevent recidivism.
“This gives opportunities for education and a career path,” he said.
The Opportunity Alliance hopes a home at 1519 Forest Ave. in Portland will be open March 1 to give former juvenile offenders a place to stay while finding work or going to school.