The community is invited to attend
“When I grew up, I knew where the monsters were,” said Bob Rodgers, president and CEO of Street Grace.
Rodgers, who spoke to the Spalding Collaborative last Wednesday, said, “now I don’t know. They shop with us, go to church with us. Realize this — it is happening under our noses.”
Street Grace is an Atlanta-based, faith-driven organization collaborating with faith, business and community leaders providing a comprehensive path to end domestic minor sex trafficking in Metro Atlanta and throughout the United States.
“The numbers are overwhelming, and the kids sold for sex are in our schools.” Rodgers said. “This is a runaway, a foster, homeless problem, but is also our problem. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 1 out of every 4 girls experiences some form of sexual exploitation, and 1 out of every 6 boys.”
He said, the biggest surprise, those statistics are people — 50,000 babies born this year will experience some form of sexual exploitation by age 18.”
The customers are “buyers of sex.” Rodgers said “the vast majority of the problem is men — 92 percent of people victimized are female. It is a gender issue, violence touches women.”
According to the statistics, they “look like the college professor who trafficks his students, the children’s pastor to takes advantage of children, the neighbor who trafficks a 13-year-old girl for two years. It’s 17 or 18-year-old girls who talk their friends into coming down here.”
The friends, with their older boyfriend, will come get them, Rodgers said.
“They are happy to do it, but need help paying for expenses,” he said. “Within 12 hours, the girls have been raped repeatedly, and within the next day, they are across the state, being raped in another hotel room.”
The victims are “a 9-year-old girl raped by her cousin, then at 11 raped by her father, and on her 13th birthday, dad sells admission to a hotel to nine of his friends to rape her. After, he slips a birthday card under her door with a note — ‘welcome to womanhood.’”
There is some good news, Rodgers said.
“Some good things are happening,” he said. “Churches, businesses, schools are hearing the presentations — public, private, business and faith groups all rallying around this. It’s not about race, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor. This hits all communities.”
People, he said, are getting involved — volunteering, giving lots of money.
“And when faith groups get involved things change,” he said.
One of the changes is the recent legislation signed this past week by President Donald Trump. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 was signed into law. The final legislation incorporates the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which was co-sponsored by U.S Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia).
In a press release on April 11, Isakson said, “the legislation signed into law by the president today is an important step toward holding perpetrators of the vile crime of online sex trafficking accountable and allowing victims to seek recourse. This legislation updates and strengthens our laws while keeping the internet open and I’m glad that it is now law.”
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, he said, “ensures that operators of websites who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable, and that victims can pursue legal recourse in their struggle for justice.”
It was introduced in the Senate after a two-year inquiry that culminated in a report entitled, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” This report found that Backpage.com knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes to increase its own profits.
Within hours of the legislation being passed by the Senate and before it was signed by the president, many of these pages have been shut down, Rodgers said. One of those, Backpage.com, he said, “was the largest online brothel. This suppresses the supply. Buyers are having hard time finding it — for now.”
Backpage.com, he said was the owner of many of the other sites as well, and a new one has come out — bedpage.com.
Rodgers said “the underground sex industry is a $13 billion a year industry. In comparision, the NFL is $14 billion. It Atlanta, the underground sex industry makes $290 million a year.”
He said the single largest porn site had 98 billion visits in 2017.
“The statistics are overwhelming,” Rodgers said. “If you’re watching porn, you’re watching sex trafficking” which he defined as when people who cannot voluntarily leave, and someone who is promised something — money, clothes, and gifts — for sex.
Street Grace, he said “is child-focused and demand-centric. They offer a residential program for those who get out. We work on prevention, protection and pursuit.”
The prevention and protection, he said, includes work with students, since of the 73,000 found in sex trafficking last year, 53,000 were under age 18.
Pursuit, he said, includes work with legislators and law enforcement to crack down on the purveyors of underground sex. But he noted, “we’re not an organization that stands up and cheers every time someone is arrested. Yes, they need to go to jail, but that does not solve the problem. It’s not because we’re soft on it. We work with men’s groups in jail. Sending them to jail is not the cure; they need counseling.”
Street Grace has done something it calls “transaction intercept,” where it places adds, mans a call center, and sends texts back with treatment information. They work with law enforcement, letting them know what they are doing. Of those sent texts with information, he said, 15 percent sought help, and there was a “noticeable reduction in repeat calls.”
He’s met with tech companies to find a way to this without having to manually staff a call center. BBDO, one of the largest marketing firms worked with them “to develop a chat bot, with five or six personalities. In the next few months, we look to disrupt the transactions, and can set it collect data for city, state and federal law enforcement.”
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Rotary Club of Griffin and Griffin Daybreak Rotary Club have events planned for this month, including Rodgers presentation before the Collaborative, and series of stories in this newspaper on the topic, to bring awareness to human trafficking.
On Wednesday, April 18, Dorsey Jones, a survivor of sex trafficking, will speak to Griffin Daybreak Rotary Club at its 7:30 a.m., meeting at J Henry’s. Jones was a victim of sex trafficking at the ages 12 and 13 in Bainbridge.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles on sex trafficking The Griffin Daily News will run this month.)
BY RAY LIGHTNER STAFF WRITER RAY2GRIFFINDAILYNEWS.
The Senior Issues Committee of the Spalding County Collaborative hosted the 2018 Senior Issues Spring Conference on Wednesday at the Spalding County Senior Center.
The conference opened with the recognition of James Johnston’s daughters Beth Horne and Mary Johnston. Mr. Johnston had been the Senior Issues Committee Chairman for 10 years. The conference was dedicated to his memory.
The theme of the event was Emergency Preparedness. Over 50 seniors attended listening to the guest speakers, taking notes, and asking questions though out the presentations.
Ted Manolis was the first speaker. He demonstrated Personal Defense Techniques. Manolis is a certified Krav Maga instructor.
Emergency Department Chief Administrator Glenn Polk of the Spalding County Fire Department spoke on Natural Disaster Readiness and Fire Plans.
“It has become a passion of mine, especially since the tornados of 2011,” said Polk. “We saw them going through my neighborhood.”
Polk encouraged the crowd to “Be prepared. Have plans in place in case of an emergency or disaster. The more you practice your plans, the better off you will be.”
He was followed by speakers from the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Deputy Tommy Thomason and Lt. Frank Clark spoke on Community Policing and Crime Prevention.
Clark spoke to the attendees about “hardening” their home to make it safer. “Hardening your home will make it a hard target. Criminals look for easy targets,” said Clark.
He encouraged seniors to use landscaping to make windows inaccessible, lamps on timers when they are not home, and to consider a security system.
“Don’t open the door for anyone you don’t know,” said Clark. “If they won’t go away, dial 911 and let us deal with them.”
Sheriff Darrell Dix followed Clark and told the group, “We always enjoy coming to the Senior Center. You are very engaged and ask good questions. I have learned some things today too.”
He encouraged the seniors “when in doubt, call. You are not bothering us or inconveniencing us. It is our job.”
Dix told the attendees about Nixle Alerts available from the Sheriff’s Department. Nixle Alerts sends out up-to-date relevant information from local public safety departments. Go to www.nixle.com to register to receive alerts by email or by phone.
The Spalding County Sheriff’s Department, Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging, and WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital had display tables at the conference with brochures and free items.
The Senior Issues Committee of the Spalding County Collaborative members are Lauren Brown, Senior Center Supervisor; Janie Clark, Brightmoor Hospice; Mitzi May, Suncrest Home Health; Kim Stephens, WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital; and Toni Williams, Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging.
For more information on upcoming events at the Spalding County Senior Center, call 770/467-4385.
The first Little Free Library of this year was dedicated Tuesday at the Spalding County Department of Family and Children’s Services.
Brett Bell, who has spearheaded this campaign for the Spalding Collaborative, said “this box is the first for 2018, but we’re still at the original count of 20.”
The box, he said, is the one that had been at Raymond Head Park but was vandalized and then repaired by the sponsor, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and redecorated by Crystal Sisavath.
“The Sisavaths have had a hand in about half of the boxes,” Bell said, building, decorating and/or sponsoring them.
This is the second attempt at putting a box at DFACS, Bell explained, after another box, decorated by students at A.Z. Kelsey, in hot pink glitter, “was problematic, and not conducive for this location. Glitter got all over the place.”
DFACS Executive Director Phyllis Easton Barkley cut the ribbon on the box in the lobby of the DFACS offices at 411 East Solomon St., Griffin.
Bell said there are at least six boxes awaiting locations and one will be going in at Anne Street Elementary School to replace the one from Raymond Head Park, so the area can be served. He thanked Anne Street Principal Pearla Hodo for her efforts and explained there will be contest at the school, with the winning class getting to decorate the box for the school.
A couple of boxes will be going in at Wyomia Tyus Park by the playgrounds, Bell said, and a solar-powered, lighted box will eventually go in at Healthy Life Community Garden, once work is finished out there.
The Little Free Library campaign, Bell said, “has brought together folk who would not otherwise work together, it’s not just a Collaborative effort.”
The Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce, its Leadership classes, and Chamber members, as well as city and county officials, local schools, businesses, churches, civic clubs and scouts have worked to support the effort by providing locations, sponsors, building or decorating boxes and donating books.
“It’s an example of the many different layers or spokes being a part of this,” Bell said.
“The whole theme is take a book, leave a book,” Bell said, “but if don’t have a book to leave, or you really love the book and want to keep it, that’s OK.”
First National Bank and WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital have drop boxes to accept new and gently-used books. First National Bank also houses and sorts the books to be distributed to the Little Free Libraries when stewards see the books are running low.
Ray Lightner, Griffin Daily News March 28
The bonded $1.9 million Fairmont/Heritage Park SPLOST project is on schedule for completion in December of this year, as was originally projected.
County Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor, who pushed for the project in her district as a way to get the SPLOST to pass after it failed the year before, asked that the project be added to the agenda for Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
During public comments, Daa’Ood Amin, who chaired the pro-SPLOST effort, spoke of concerns brought to him about the project, since other bonded projects have been completed.
“This one is way behind, in my opinion,” Amin said. “I’m asking this board to fulfill their commitment to this project, I’d like to see it get back on track.”
Flowers-Taylor raised similar concerns from residents asking “why this bonded project has not been started? I don’t have an explanation of why it’s not been completed.”
County Manager William Wilson Jr. told her “the new air conditioning (for the Fairmont Community Center) is done, asbestos removal is done, new sidewalks and fencing are done, the outside restroom building is done.”
Wilson said Public Works, Parks and Grounds Director T.J. Imberger said this would all be done with in-house crews.
“Some of the work, because of change in state laws, can no longer be done without a licensed general contractor to pull the permits,” Wilson said. “We don’t have any licensed contractors on staff. We have to hire a project manager who is licensed to pull the permits, and submit plans to the City of Griffin.”
Wilson said pavilion play structure has been bought and is storage, waiting to be installed. Work is ongoing on the shade structure, then landscaping. There are four play structures that will be installed.
He said demolition has been approved inside the rec center, using a construction manager to pull the permits from the city.
“It was scheduled to be completed in December 2018, we’ll be close, based on us doing the work,” Wilson said.
When asked how much was spent so far, the Wilson said, “to date, Fairmont requisitions total $412,892.47 and Heritage Park requisitions total $234,908.89.”
Flowers-Taylor then questioned why work was done at Sunny Side and Orchard Hill first. Wilson said “you (the commissioners, both city and county) said give them their money first.”
Commission Chairman Raymond Ray said, “the project is scheduled for completion in December 2018, as we promised. We’re still working on accomplishing that. Things are happening, not as fast as some wanted, but they are happening.”
Flowers-Taylor then complained that “the courthouse got their computers up front,” a purchase the commissioners approved even before the SPLOST was passed and included it in the bonded projects.
She then complained about pickleball, something she also voted for as a bonded project citing the potential economic impact, saying, “they’ve been playing pickleball for year. It’s always something. They want to know why we lied. Really that’s how you gonna do?”
She and Amin both noted that voters will be asked for another SPLOST in the future and they may be reluctant to vote for another one if promises are not kept.
Commissioner Rita Johnson asked that the county be held to the December date. Ray asked for more updates on the progress of the project.
“I hope they will come,” Flowers-Taylor said, “Commissioner Hawbaker has asked before.”
Hawbaker said, “it should be a regular agenda item,” noting that it is a big project. He praised Wilson’s work in selling the bonds for the project, and use of the premiums to cover the cost overages from pickleball costs.
“I’m all in favor of allocating what else is left from that to Fairmont,” Hawbaker said. “Let’s giddy up.”
Ray asked that board “get updates on SPLOST projects, especially the bonded ones, at least once a month.”
The first Little Free Library of 2018 will be at the Spalding County Department of Family and Children’s Services on East Solomon Street.
Brett Bell, who has spearheaded the initiative, said Tuesday that “County Manager William Wilson and DFACS Director Phyllis Easton Barkley have approved the placement of the first Little Free Library of 2018 inside the DFACS center.”
Bell said a date has not been finalized as the county wants to mount the box so it does not tip over. The box, Bell said, “was donated to the initiative as a newspaper box by the Griffin Daily News; A.Z. Kelsey Academy students refurbished and designed its celebratory look.”
Discussions are also under way, Bell said, “with Anne Street Elementary Principal Pearla Hodo about placing the reconciled Little Free Library taken out of Raymond Head Park to that of the school’s compound.”
That box, sponsored by the Department of Juvenile Justice, was vandalized just before Christmas. It since been repaired.
Discussions are also under way to locate two Little Free Libraries at Wyomia Tyus Park, Bell said, “one near each of the two children’s playgrounds.”
He also announced that the Spalding Collaborative Little Free Library initiative was awarded a $2,500 grant by Agnes B. Hunt Foundation.
“This money will be used to maintain the boxes already up, and purchase ‘gently’ used children’s books,” Bell said.
“We are in desperate need of children’s books,” he added encouraging people to drop off new or gently used children’s books at the two drop box locations — outside First National Bank’s main office, 318 South Hill St., and outside the Women’s Center at WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital.
This is according to Vaughn Irons of APD Solutions, who conducted a joint housing study for the county and City of Griffin. Irons made a presentation on the county portion of the results earlier this week, entitled “Future in the GRaSP,” named for Griffin and Spalding County.
The study included a windshield and later a data survey of 10,331 parcels in Spalding County. The data area included all of Griffin city limits and the surrounding high density population areas in unincorporated Spalding County, but not the entire county. It did not include the cities of Sunny Side, Orchard Hill or the developments of Sun City Peachtree or Heron Bay.
The Spalding “dataset” included 1,829 parcels outside of Griffin city limits, with 1,726 surveyed structures and 103 surveyed vacant lots.
Of those, 60 percent were listed in fair condition, 14.6 percent in poor condition, 13.2 percent in good condition, 3.8 percent with no structure, 3.6 percent in dilapidated condition, 2.9 percent in excellent condition, and 1.8 percent not visible.
According to Irons, 32.1 percent are physically distressed, blight is 18.2 percent, 16.1 percent with very low curb appeal and there were 256 or 13.9 percent vacant properties.
The study also included the local jobs impact and neighborhood assessments. Irons explained the factors included in the rankings for the 22 neighborhoods in the overall study were — review of census data, property value, owner occupancy, spending and earning of residents in each neighborhood.
For the employment impact, he said, there are 21,452 employees in Spalding dataset (study area) including 7,811 outside Griffin. Of those employed in Spalding County, 14,523 live outside of the county.
The county has 24,449 working residents, with 6,929 living and working here, 17,520 working outside the county so 32 percent of their jobs are here, Irons explained.
The neighborhood rating or typology included:
• Exceptional — Neighborhoods that are the most competitive, locally and regionally, in all indicators.
• Stable — Attractive neighborhoods with strong housing demand and a balanced assessment across indicators.
• Transitional — Neighborhoods generally experiencing signs of improved conditions or alternatively the first signs of decline.
• Vulnerable — Neighborhoods that are susceptible to exposure to a variety of factors that threaten the vitality of the area and its residents.
• Distressed — Neighborhoods that have experienced decline among multiple indicators for some time.
On the map Irons showed with the ratings, Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor noted the “distressed” neighborhoods were all in her district.
According to the study, the following were listed as distressed: East Griffin I, East Griffin II, Thomaston Mill, and census areas 604003, 604004 and 604005 which are roughly area west of Hill Street, south of McIntosh Road, and east and north of city limits.
Owner occupancy was another factor, with percentages ranging from a low of 24.1 percent in Meriwether, Park District and three other census districts including two of those above, to 87.5 percent in the Maple Drive/Maddox district.
The study included 12 possible solutions, but noted solutions would be different and needed to be tailored to each neighborhood.
The solutions included employer-assisted housing; adopt-a-school partnerships; lease-purchase options; renovation tax abatement; housing trust fund; renovation tax-credits; stronger neighborhood identities; infill development/rehabilitation; code enforcement priorities; vacant property receivership; modular housing initiative; and connecting community and economic development.
Griffin-Spalding Land Bank Authority Chairman Newton Galloway, also the county zoning attorney, liked the study and noted some of these are being done through the Land Bank, including a lease/purchase trial the Land Bank is trying with a local developer for three parcels.
The Land Bank also looks to do infill housing, and works with the city and county and blight removal. It will be continuing its policy of requiring owner occupancy for homes it sells, following the direction of the commissioners.
The full report is available as part of agenda for the Jan. 22 meeting at https://spaldingcounty.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/.
In order for Griffin stakeholders to develop a plan that will allow the area to compete favorably for investment at regional, state and national levels, a comprehensive housing inventory produced 12 recommendations to bring about positive change.
APD Solutions CEO Vaughn Irons presented the survey’s results to the city’s Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 12 workshop. City officials selected APD Solutions Real Estate Group, a national community economic development consulting firm, to conduct the study.
Commissioners asked Director of Planning and Development Touissant Kirk to implement the recommendations that all felt would positively influence the housing conditions in the city.
“We will be reviewing the information and reporting back to the commissioners,” Kirk said.
Vaughn commended the city on its aggressive model regarding substandard structures and demolition of the same, noting this favorably impacted the number of dilapidated structures in the condition assessment.
While there are any factors underlying the challenges found in the local housing market, Irons said this study hopefully will seek approaches to combat those challenges and recommend action steps to offer a long-term vision for positive change.
Of the 13,641 people employed within Griffin, the study found that 87.4 percent of them live outside the city, with the remaining 12.6 percent living in Griffin.
“With 13,641 jobs and 8,941 households, Griffin has an excellent job/housing balance of 1.53. That is a positive, but the job share is concerning with only 20 percent of the available jobs in the city being filled by citizens. This has an impact on local economic opportunity, which is compounded with wages being low, given the median income of $32,116 in Griffin,” the report states.
The study looked at existing conditions, with the primary intent to factually illustrate the condition of the designated residential properties.
In a study of area residential structure conditions, 6.1 percent were considered to be in excellent condition, 22.3 percent were considered to be in good condition and 44.9 percent were found to be in fair condition.
“From a housing conditions viewpoint, the Griffin/Spalding study area has relatively stable but aging physical housing stock. Overall there is a ‘fair’ general aesthetic appeal with the ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ parcels very concentrated in a handful of neighborhoods,” the study states .
The study also showed 13.4 percent of studied residential structures were considered to be in poor condition, 3.1 percent in dilapidated condition and 2.5 percent were not visible, according to the study.
“Extreme dilapidation was documented at 324 parcels. The locations of these properties are very concentrated in areas of the city closer to former and existing industrial sites. Properties in this category include structures most likely in need of demolition,” the study states.
While the city’s 12.7 percent vacancy rate may not seem startling, most of the vacant lots and poor structures are concentrated within several neighborhoods, many of them comprising a “band” of communities beginning in the northeast and sprawling to the southwestern portion of the city, the study shows.
“These areas not only have higher structural vacancy numbers, but also represent some of the most blighted areas in Griffin,” the study states.
The study’s recommendations include:
— Establish a targeted workforce or employer assisted housing initiative. “Strengthening the challenged neighborhoods must include creating a linkage to current and future job opportunities,” according to the study. “An employer-assisted housing initiative can help employers both enhance their businesses and help the city turn around declining growth numbers.”
— Adopt-a-school partnerships with local businesses. “The city and county should work with the Chamber of Commerce to establish an adopt-a-school program for public schools serving the vulnerable and distressed neighborhood areas to raise the profile of challenges and help erase hurdles to addressing mediocre performance,” the study explains.
— Develop a lease-purpose option. “A lease-purchase option would help capturing families who are ready for home ownership but may need more time to save or work on credit problems,” according to the study.
— Property tax abatement for property improvement and renovation. “The Restoration Tax Abatement model is one of the most accessible incentives for buyers and property managers. The program would have options for commercial properties and owner-occupied residences,” the study recommends.
— Establish a housing trust fund. “It is recommended Griffin go one step further by creating a workforce housing trust fund. This fund would be dedicated to assisting the employees at licensed businesses in the city find affordable and suitable housing options,” the study explains.
— Financing single-family properties for renovation tax credits.
— Create stronger identities for neighboring areas. “As you travel throughout Griffin there are many residential areas that seem to lack clarity regarding neighborhood boundaries and identities. To better define the features and benefits of these residential areas and attract local families to become a part of it, removing confusion regarding neighborhood areas is recommended,” the housing study states.
— Promote infill development, rehabilitation and weatherization. “With the number of vacant lots in Griffin, the advanced age of the city’s housing stock, and limited government resources, creating an environment designed to preserve and renovate existing housing stock should be a priority,” according to the study.
— Concentrate housing dollars and code enforcement in priority areas.
— Establish a vacant property receivership/conservatorship program. “Receivership gives a municipality the authority to temporarily seize the rights of the property owners under a court-appointed directive until such time that the original owner is given permission to move forward with his rights and responsibilities. The owner is further required to complete specified duties and reimburse possible costs incurred during receivership. The Griffin Housing Authority or local non-profits could be identified and trained as a pool of receivers,” the study explains.
— Consider modular construction for new development. “Modular construction will produce housing in a more expedient and cost-effective manner than traditional construction,” the study states.
— Stronger collaboration between community and economic development initiatives.
“The APDS consultant team hopes that the Griffin housing plan will be a new catalyst to restore, rebuild and renew this community,” the study concludes.
Professional basketball player and Griffin High graduate Brent Petway donated 50 books to the Spalding Collaborative’s Little Free Library initiative.
The donation includes a collection of high-interest readers for primary scholars, from Scholastic Books — including his biography titled “I Believe I Can Fly and So Can You.” It is a series telling of “Brent’s plight to become an professional basketball player,” written by his mother, Dr. Angela E. Burse.
He now understands the importance of reading, Burse said.
“You’ve got to read to be successful, she said. “So many athletes don’t focus on reading.”
He wanted to look back and give back to the community where he grew up, his mother said. “We thought this was a great opportunity.”
Petway graduated from Griffin High in 2003, playing on the state championship basketball team that year. He attended the University of Michigan on a basketball scholarship, playing on the NIT championship team there.
He played in the NBA Developmental League and his 10-year professional career so far includes a year with the Harlem Globetrotters, and playing professionally in France, Italy, Turkey and Greece, where he currently plays for Aris Thessaloniki.
Brett Bell accepted the donation on behalf of the Collaborative, saying “we sincerely appreciate this contribution. Any time he he wants to give more, we’ll gladly accept them.”
Bell noted there’s still a dire need for children’s books encouraging people to drop off children’s books anytime at drop-off sites at First National Bank and outside the Women’s Center at WellStar Spalding Regional.