Chattanooga nonprofit seeks OK for job training as gang death toll mounts

Chattanooga nonprofit seeks OK for job training as gang death toll mounts

September 26th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Tonya Rooks, right, representing the College Hill Resident Council, speaks during a discussion of the Chattanooga Housing Authority's 2013 Annual Agency Plan during a board meeting Tuesday at the CHA.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.


Chattanooga Housing Authority officials heard comments from the public and approved the agency's 2013 Annual Agency Plan on Tuesday. CHA board chairman Eddie Holmes told the audience of nearly 60 people that all comments would be included in their report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in mid-October. The plan calls for a community-wide planning process about the future of College Hill Courts and East Lake Courts.

Vincent Boozer says it was Thursday when he talked to 20-year-old Quincy Bell about the young man's desire to get a job and his hopes for the future.

Forty-eight hours later, Bell was found dead in his car in what police are calling a gang-related retaliation killing.

"We don't have time to keep meeting. It's time for action," said Boozer, director of programs for Hope For The Inner City, a Christian ministry that helps low- and no-income people become self-sufficient.

Boozer wants the Chattanooga Housing Authority board of directors to allow gang members and others now on CHA's no-trespassing list to attend the upcoming Jobs For Life program at College Hill Courts, the city's largest public housing site.

At least 1,000 men age 18 to 35 are on the CHA's criminal trespassing list, according to court records. The list includes people who are on CHA properties without proper identification and those who have committed other crimes.

"They're already on the property and they're not going anywhere, so why not try to help them?" College Hill Courts Resident Association President Tonya Rooks asked CHA board members.

Giving gang members a job is one of the main recommendations in the Comprehensive Gang Assessment, a citywide study released this month.

Boozer said he grew up in the Harriet Tubman housing development and is familiar with gangs, but he never joined because his mother made sure he had a job.

CHA Board Chairman Eddie Holmes said Boozer and Rooks are expected to meet with CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright this week to discuss the details of the jobs class and stipulations to allow people on the trespassing list to attend. He thinks the housing authority would be willing to work out an agreement.

CHA's Chief of Public Safety Felix Vess also said he would consider the idea of allowing people on the trespass list to meet at College Hill Courts or near it for job training.

Hope for the Inner City's Jobs for Life is a 10-week job training class that includes GED training and testing and a computer literacy class to help participants in job searches, according to the Hope for the Inner City website.

Each student will be matched with a mentor or group of mentors who provide the student with support through the class and their first year of employment. Leaders and owners of local business will serve as visiting speakers and volunteer mentors.

While the plan was to start the first class Monday, there was a fight at College Hill on Thursday. The College Hill Courts resident manager said Rooks and Boozer would have to get a decision from the CHA board before they could offer the class at the site.

The plan is to have two separate 10-week classes. The one for women is scheduled to start Monday, while the class for men is expected to start around the second week of October, Rooks said.

About 26 women and 25 men have enrolled, they said. Some of the men who have enrolled are on the CHA no-trespassing list but still visit people on the site. All the women are College Hill Courts residents except for one from East Lake Courts, Rooks said.

Holmes said he expects classes will be offered at the Westside Recreation Center on Poplar Street or at the James A. Henry building on Grove Street. Both sit just outside College HiIl Courts.

Only one-third of working age residents at College Hill Courts have a job. Most household incomes there fall under the federal benchmark for poverty. In 2011, the Westside community had the leading number of gang-related criminal incidents, according to the gang study.

Rooks said she has been laying the groundwork for the Jobs For Life program at College Hill Courts for three months. She got residents to bring their high school transcripts, Social Security numbers and other paperwork required for the class. She also partnered with Boozer, who will oversee the class, mentor residents and bring in other mentors.

Boozer encouraged the board to act quickly.

"We need to take action before we lose more people to the streets," he said.