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Summit House closes, plans to reopen

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Summit House

Summit House

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Summit House, a nonprofit with residential facilities in Greensboro and Charlotte that provided a structured alternative to prison for women offenders and their children, has suspended operations temporarily and laid off its staff of about 20 people.

The group, which hopes to reopen in January, closed on June 22 after state lawmakers changed the way they will fund programs for women offenders, says Timothy Wilson, a lawyer at SAS in Cary who serves as board chair for Summit House.

The state Department of Correction, which in the fiscal year that ends June 30 accounted for 75 percent of the nonprofit’s operating funds, now is developing a request for proposals to provide similar services on a contractual basis, and Summit House plans to submit a proposal, Wilson says.

The new arrangement likely will mean stays of three to six months, compared to one or two years that had been typical at Summit House, he says.

“What we’re looking at in the future is a fee-for-service model,” he says. “The funding follows the number of women we serve.”

Formed in 1987, Summit House operated with an annual budget of about $1.25 million, three-fourths of it in state funding that typically was a line item in the state budget, although state funding had been cut 10 percent each of the past two years, Wilson says.

The group’s facilities housed eight women and their children in Charlotte, and six women and their children in Greensboro.

Summit House also had operated a residential facility in Raleigh but it closed several years ago because it was not financially sustainable, Wilson says.

The organization offered an “alternative sentence,” he says.

“Instead of going to prison, they would be sentenced to Summit House,” he says. “It’s like intensive probation.”

As part of the program, women staying at Summit House received substance-abuse training, as well as education and job-training.

To graduate from the program, women had to be clean and sober; earn a GED, or the equivalent of a high-school diploma; and have a full-time job and at least $1,500 in the bank.

With state cuts in recent years, Summit House recognized “we couldn’t depend on the state for ongoing operations,” Wilson says. “At the end of the day, we needed to change. The legislature has given us an opportunity to do that.”

He says he is optimistic about the organization’s chances for success under a more “market-driven” state funding policy.

Summit House is “moving in the right direction,” he says.

It also will be able to look for other sources of funding on a fee-for-contract basis, such as state funding for alternatives for foster care for children.

“We’re looking forward to serving the women of North Carolina and the taxpayers of North Carolina,” Wilson says. “We save the taxpayers millions of dollars a year” by providing an alternative to prison.

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