Men interested in attending Hope for the Inner City's Jobs for Life class may call Vincent Boozer at 698-3178. Separate job training classes are also available on site to women.
They came expecting job training. What they didn't expect was a citation for criminal trespassing.
But so many men were cited by police and Chattanooga Housing Authority security personnel that the men began to suspect that the Hope for the Inner City job skills class at College Hill Courts was a setup.
One man got two citations in the same day, said Tonya Rooks, resident council president at the public housing site.
Betsy McCright, executive director of the housing authority, blamed the citations on a misunderstanding and said the housing authority is willing to help the men.
"If not us, then who? We'd like to be a part of it and see this program work," McCright said Tuesday. "Somebody has got to take a chance."
It was just four weeks ago that Vincent Boozer, program director for Hope for the Inner City, appealed to the authority to allow men banned from public housing to attend job training at College Hill Courts.
CHA officials agreed, and class began Oct. 8.
The citations to men on the no-trespassing list began the same day. Some were cited before or after class, others were tracked down in College Hill Courts or elsewhere.
About 15 men attended Jobs for Life on the first day. After they started getting citations, the number dwindled, Rooks said.
The class has several gang members and others who have criminal records. They want to change their lives so much that they gathered birth certificates, school transcripts and other documents needed to enroll in the class, she said.
"These guys are hollering for help," Rooks said. "They want to change."
The problem was that CHA officials and Boozer had agreed that the class would meet at Renaissance Presbyterian Church -- away from CHA property -- McCright said. With permission from the city, Hope for the Inner City subsequently moved the class to the Westside Recreation Center, she said.
Until late last week, McCright said, she didn't know about the move or the citations, and Hope officials apparently didn't know that CHA owned the building and that its approval was needed to hold classes there.
So when the participants went there for training, they were given citations.
In the meantime, Boozer decided to move the class away from the Westside.
"I'm committed to those guys," he said. "My job is to give them a second chance to get it right."
But Boozer said McCright caught wind of the problem and met Monday with him and CHA Chief of Public Safety Felix Vess. McCright and Vess promised that no man will be cited for criminal trespassing while attending the Jobs for Life training, Boozer said. He will give Vess a list of class participants.
Classes for the men will start again at noon Monday at the Westside Recreation Center. Eight men are expected to attend.
Aaron Suttles, a 24-year-old Westside resident on CHA's no-trespass list, said he'll be among them.
"It's to better me," he said. "Help me find opportunity to get a job and to better myself as a man."
He said he's been on CHA's criminal trespass list because he was caught with a bag of marijuana when he was 16 years old. Suttles had a job at Church's Chicken on Brainerd Road but lost it after he was put in jail. He's been unemployed for six months.
Suttles wants to start his own landscaping business and work full time as a landscaper.
Jobs For Life is a 10-week job training class. Participants will get GED training and testing, a faith and finances curriculum, and a computer literacy class to aid participants in their job searches. Each student is matched with a mentor or group of mentors who provides the students with support through the class and their first year of employment. Local business partners serve as visiting speakers.
Boozer said he'll work with the men and CHA to get the men off the trespass list and he has already helped some men find odd jobs to earn money while in the training class. Other men will do community service, he said.
Boozer is also helping men get mental health care and social services.
Rooks said many of the men look to Boozer as a mentor as well as a trainer.
"He is breaking barriers," she said. "Many of them never had anybody to say, 'What do you need?'"
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yput email@example.com or call 423-757-6431.