BROOKVILLE — About 100 Brockway and Snyder Township residents and public officials attended a hearing Monday at the Jefferson County Courthouse pertaining to the Just for Jesus (JFJ) Challenge Homeless Outreach Ministry in Snyder Township.
The hearing was held jointly by the Jefferson County Commission and the Snyder Township Board of Supervisors, co-chaired by Ed Ferraro, Snyder Township solicitor, and James Dennison, county and Brookville Borough solicitor.
Many of the people testifying spoke against the housing of Tracy Alexander, who was released from state prison after serving 26 years for third-degree murder. He has been living at JFJ, which is coordinated by Jack Wisor.
Ferraro said he and Dennison agreed they needed to hear from individuals who called this meeting.
Fred Barefield, chairman of the Snyder Township supervisors, said the reason the commissioners and supervisors went forward with the meeting — knowing Wisor and his associates wouldn’t be in attendance — was that both boards felt that not holding the meeting would be a missed opportunity to answer questions and hear residents’ concerns about the shelter.
“We are here to address the functionality of the shelter in the community, and not to question anyone’s religious beliefs,” Barefield said.
Those who spoke had three minutes to express their concerns.
• Susan Wolfe, Brockway, said Pennsylvania’s prison system is overcrowded and, to cut costs, it outsources inmates to homeless shelters without proper rehabilitation.
“More and more of these shelters are going to pop up around us,” she said, adding that the reality is that another group home could open in the near future.
“There is not one licensed nurse on staff at Just for Jesus,” Wolfe said. “There is no one who should or could be dispensing medicine.”
Wolfe said there are no mental health counselors who could deal with an unruly resident or someone having a mental or emotional meltdown.
“The director of the facility isn’t even equipped to counsel residents with mental or emotional problems,” she said. “He has no background in counseling, and the 10-hour sex offender class he took certainly doesn’t enable him to handle a crisis.”
Wolfe said she it would take “intense rehabilitation” for Alexander to re-enter society.
“Who will help this man at Just for Jesus?” she said. “We don’t want these inmates being sent to Just for Jesus.”
• Denise Foradori, Brockway, presented a log consisting of newspaper articles, police reports and letters from the Just for Jesus facility to various businesses and organizations.
Foradori said she wanted to inform and protect the community of the real and growing danger of housing numerous murderers, Megan’s Law sex offenders and other felons in a non-licensed facility “that we feel has improper staffing and housing to accommodate it,” she said.
• Mary Belle Holt, Snyder Township, said this is the first time in her married life of 50 years that she and her husband have felt as if they should lock their doors, as they live two miles from the facility.
• Theresa Atwell, of the Second Chance Ministries, said she was not speaking for Just for Jesus, but for inmates.
“God called me three years ago to go into a dark place, a state prison,” Atwell said, saying she found a “lost world of broken people.”
Atwell said there are released inmates everywhere, including 850 in Jefferson County.
“I came here to give a voice to those who have no voice,” she said.
• Bob Stowman, former Brockway Police chief, said there is no setting in Brockway or Snyder Township that is ideal for housing some of the people who are housed in Snyder Township, about a half mile from the school, library and its park complex.
“I am certain our county prison would fail a state inspection if it were to house prisoners in the same manner they are reportedly housed in the farm house on Route 28,” Stowman said, adding that the Just for Jesus facility should be considered unfit for human habitation and closed down.
• Tracy Zents, Jefferson County Emergency Management director, said the number of calls to the Just for Jesus group home in Snyder Township included six calls for police services; two fire department responses; 25 EMS responses; and one other response, for a 2010 total of 34.
Zents said at the Brookville Just for Jesus facility, calls included one request for police and nine for EMS, for a total of 10.
• Bruce A. Morris, DuBois-based Pennsylvania State Police, said the total police calls in 2010 to the Snyder Township facility included three assaults; one criminal warrant; 15 Megan’s Law registrations; two community notifications; one Megan’s Law investigation; and three assaults.
In 2011, he said there were 52 calls for Megan’s Law registrations; nine community notifications; three requests to assist other police officers; two local warrants and one subpoena; two Megan’s Law investigations; one sexual offense, indecent exposure; one sexual offense, rape investigation; one criminal mischief; one assist request with a mental health patient ; one fugitive from justice; and four responses listed as other.
All together, 13 people addressed the two-hour hearing.
The Punxsutawney Spirit was unable to reach Wisor for comment regarding the comments made at the hearing.