KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Local and state leaders broke ground Friday afternoon on the future Dogan-Gaither Flats, an affordable housing option for former inmates.
Knoxville’s Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie opened the ceremony with history of the former Dogan-Gaither Motor Court.
“Dogan-Gaither Flats will provide a source of redemption in an area with a rich African-American history here in Knoxville,” McKenzie said.
The Jessamine address was the second location of the important motel, that hosted patrons such as Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and five Freedom Riders, after being forced to move from its original location at East Vine Avenue as part of the “Downtown Loop” urban renewal project that would become James White Parkway in the early 1960s.
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon thanked the city council for contributing nearly $500k to help build Dogan-Gaither Flats.
She said the project was important to her because she know how important it is for the community to help rehabilitate those coming out of incarceration.
Kincannon talked of a man she just met, who had a rough childhood and was in and out of juvenile detention center.
Then, when he was an adult he served 10 years in prison for drug crimes.
When he came out, he applied to numerous jobs with very little luck.
“He applied to over 75 entry-level jobs. Then finally, one employer took a chance on him. He invited him to church, Nate accepted. They had a frank conversation. This employer gave him a job, became a mentor, brought him into his family, and now today Nate is a successful member of the community,” Kincannon said.
Kincannon said the building itself is just one part of making re-entry into society successful.
The other part is the counseling and mentorship the Men of Valor program will provide.
Gov. Bill Lee also talked at the groundbreaking Friday afternoon.
Lee said he first worked with Men of Valor more than 20 years ago, and became a mentor himself.
He saw first hand the men could make through the program.
In fact, his mentee is now a good friend and has been out of prison for 10 years.
Lee said Dogan-Gaither Flats and the Men of Valor will provide the support former prisoners need to re-enter into society.
“So, 95 percent of everyone in a prison cell in this state is getting out. And they will all return into neighborhoods and into communities. So the support system that we put around those that are returning and re-entering, allows them to re-enter society, and not re-enter prison,” Lee said.
Dogan-Gaither Flats is the dream of Knoxville resident and entrepreneur Josh Smith, founder of the 4th Purpose Foundation, and ex-convict himself.
Smith knows personally how hard it is to find housing as a felon, and how hard it is to find a job.
“Imagine this: until my pardon last month, from the president, I can buy any apartment in this area, but I couldn’t rent one in it,” Smith said.
Smith said Knox County has the highest recidivism rate out of the six-metropolitan communities in the state.
“Of all the large metro counties in our state, Knox County has the highest recidivism rate,” Smith sais.
He said Knox County has more than 70% recidivism rate, which means those former prisoners end up incarcerated again.
That means they commit another crime, creating another victim.
However, Smith said the recidivism rate of the men going through the Men of Valor program is 8.5%.
Darrell Anderson, a former convict, said if the program could work for him, it can work for others.
“32 years of the spiral of going in and out. I couldn’t get it together because I couldn’t, I was searching for an identity,” Anderson said.
He was stuck in the prison system.
“The first time I ever went to jail, I was raped. And I lost me as a person,” Anderson said.
Anderson was able to find the way out, thanks to the Men of Valor program, God and his mentor David Hooven.
Hooven said the best way of helping these men is by treating them like a decent human being.
That’s one reason why Dogan-Gaither Flats will have nice accommodations.
“This is first class. We want these guys to know they are loved, they’re valued, and they’re not the thrown out trash,” Hooven said.
He said the men leaving prison need more mentors who will show them faith and help them through the darkness.
That includes helping them find a decent job with a living wage.
“Do you want them coming out with a job, contributing to the community, paying taxes, that you can walk down the street with,” Hooven said.
Anderson said at first, he didn’t think he could make a connection with Hooven. He had never been to jail.
Now, he tells him everything.
Anderson said the first 30 days of the program are some of the toughest.
The men in the program will need to open themselves up to God and be honest about their past.
But, when they finish the program, they will have a new look on life.
Anderson said that’s why the community needs to care and support what Men of Valor will be doing at Dogan-Gaither Flats.
“So I’m asking Knoxville to give us a chance. And I guarantee you we will change the community through the hand and help of God,” Anderson said.
Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, Sen. Becky Massey-Duncan, Sen. Richard Briggs, Rep. Justin Lafferty, Rep. Dave Wright, Rep. Eddie Mannis, Rep. Sam McKenzie and Rep. Michael Curcio all showed up at the event.