The Chattanooga City Council will vote today on a new face for the community outreach side of Mayor Andy Berke's crime-fighting initiative.
Paul Green, who heads Hope for the Inner City and already receives taxpayer funding, was awarded the bid to direct the social services and case management for felons and gang members involved in the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative. That position had been expected to go to Richard Bennett, director of A Better Tomorrow and already the face of VRI to the community, before his June arrest when the city cut all ties with him.
Public Safety Coordinator Paul Smith said Green's organization was chosen because of its strong presence in the inner-city community and the integrity of his current programs targeted at helping gang members.
Smith said the $290,000 contract with Hope for the Inner City is separate from the $75,000 Green already received in this year's 2015 fiscal budget to fund an ex-offender rehabilitation program.
Chattanooga's initiative involves calling in men involved in violent crimes and offering them a choice: Stop the violence or go to jail for a long time. The carrot for participants is access to education, job training and other skills needed to put crime behind them. Hope for the Inner City now will head that second-chance piece if the council approves the resolution.
"They need mentors, to obtain help. They need somebody that will listen," Smith said.
Yet one of the improvements the city learned from Bennett's arrest is the city will no longer give out the number of the organization it partners with to offenders looking for help, police Chief Fred Fletcher said. Bennett's number was given out on cards after the first meeting with offenders and passed out throughout the city. Instead the same city phone number will be given to offenders across the community, Fletcher said.
Vincent Boozer, who works for Hope for the Inner City and will head this program, said the organization will set up a 24-hour hotline that offenders can call for help and hire case managers and counselors to be available.
"We've been working with gang members for three years and we've specifically targeted these guys," he said.
Of the four organizations that bid for the contract, Tennessee Community Counseling Services was the only other group the city called in for an interview.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.