- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - The hard part is over for Dorothy Owsley.

The Roanoke woman said that once she got the necessary approvals for the house that she planned to use for a transitional home for women, the rest would start to come together much more easily.

Owsley, 63, spent the past year working toward transforming a brick house in the 1700 block of Patterson Avenue Southwest in Roanoke into a home for recently incarcerated women looking for a safe environment that would allow them to get their lives back on track before entering the community again. She plans to open the house to women on Feb. 2.

“It’s very exciting, from beginning until now,” Owsley said. “It’s been quite rewarding.”

In August, the Roanoke Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of a rezoning of the house from business to residential use, and the Roanoke City Council gave its final approval in September.

The rezoning process came with some pushback. It garnered the support of Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins and various members of the community. But Jim Crawford, president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, raised concerns during the planning commission hearing that the perception of the facility could hinder attracting new residents and businesses to the area. The house is in the city’s Hurt Park neighborhood, although Mountain View is just across the street.

Since getting approval, Owsley has been quickly moving forward to open the house to women as soon as possible.

She’s repainted parts of the interior and filled the rooms and living spaces with donated furniture. Piles of donated clothes are stored in a room.

Jimmy Cook, president of the Hurt Park Neighborhood Alliance, said he has been impressed by the transformation.

“Everything with a new beginning takes time,” Cook said. “We’re very proud of Dorothy.”

Owsley plans to take in eight women at a time. The women will have been recently released from jail or prison. All must be on probation or parole, and they will go through an interview before being accepted into the house. Owsley already has received a few letters and talked to counselors about women preparing to leave a correctional center in Goochland County.

Owsley also plans to offer the location for alternative sentencing for women who may have mental health or drug abuse issues that require a controlled environment. The women in the house will not be violent offenders or sex offenders.

Women will stay in the house for six to 18 months. They will maintain the house, attend group sessions and be required to get a job or go to school.

Owsley said the goal is for the women to develop life skills so they don’t simply go back to the same environment and lifestyle that got them locked up in the first place. The women must agree to follow any house rules, including a curfew, by signing a contract.

Owsley is finalizing funding. She estimates that it will cost about $85,000 a year to operate her transitional home. The nonprofit social service agency that Owsley created to run her home is called Transitional Options for Women.

Funding for the home, which Owsley is leasing, will come from donations, from a portion of the income women make from their jobs and from the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The department says there are three transitional homes operating in Western Virginia registered with the department. One in Harrisonburg, for example, receives $46.91 per bed per day for nonviolent offenders.

Volunteers from organizations such as AmeriCorps will run group sessions or help women by making sure they stay on track with mental health appointments or job hunting.

Owsley has years of experience with prison and jail re-entry, visiting inmates to help them plan for what they’ll do once they leave. She used to run a transitional home in Washington state. She felt there was a void that needed to be filled in the Roanoke Valley, which is why she’s taking on a similar endeavor now.

“When people seek these services and they’re just not there, that bothers me,” Owsley said.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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