City partners with Habitat

Published 2:35 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last year, Hattiesburg’s Municipal Court let misdemeanor offenders who couldn’t afford to pay off their fines work off their debts to the city through its Community Service Program.

Now offenders can build homes and help deserving families.

The new work option was made possible through the city’s partnership with Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity.

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Municipal Court Judge George Schmidt said one of the advantages of the partnership with Habitat is the convenience it gives participants.

Participants who are assigned to Habitat will work an eight-hour day then go home at night just like any other job. Schmidt says they will get a credit of $50 per day toward the payment of their fines.

“We had been putting some of those people in the work center where they were confined at night and go to work in the day,” he said. “This is an alternative to that because these people aren’t criminals.”

Since the community service program was launched in October 2008, about 700 individuals have participated. Some have gone on to acquire jobs with their work sites, Schmidt said.

Andrea Dixon, executive director of the Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity, said CSP workers will provide the much-needed labor it will take to complete the nonprofit’s first subdivision in the city limits – Celeste Place.

“It just seemed like a win-win situation,” Dixon said. “We got a deadline we’re trying to meet to get those houses (completed) to get those families into them by Christmas.”

The first phase of the project includes five homes of the planned 10-home subdivision.

Dixon said about 15 CSP workers already had been assigned to the project and she indicated there could be a request for more for future builds.

Schmidt said the court is open to partnering with other community organizations, but that’s not a high priority currently.

“I think with the Habitat partnership some folks can learn some skills that can get them jobs with construction crews,” Schmidt said. “Anything benefiting the community is something we’d be interested in.”