On the verge of losing his home and the only job he knows, prospects are bleak for Dexter Stinson. They’re equally troubling for the three men living in the transitional housing unit Stinson oversees in Frankford, a privately run facility that has been beset by financial troubles — leading the property owner to evict all four men.
“My heart is heavy,” said Stinson, a 36-year-old who is trapped in a gray area and unsure what his next move is. “These guys go to work every day. They don’t cause any problems. How is it that they’re paying, and one day I got to go and tell them they got to move.”
Stinson lives in a neat house on Elizabeth Street, just a few blocks west of the Frankford El. The street is quiet; the narrow, red-brick house hugs an abandoned railway right-of-way. The place is home to Stinson and the three other men who also share their quarters with Sheba, a cat who just gave birth to three kittens.
It is a transitional home – a place for recovering addicts or ex-offenders transitioning from prison back into society to hang their hats while they get back on their feet. There are an estimated 50,000 people on parole or probation living in Philadelphia, according to a recent study by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.
Stinson, an ex-offender himself, is essentially the house administrator, though he doesn’t get paid for the work. Instead, he agreed to oversee the home, which can house up to seven individuals, collecting rent, keeping order, cleaning and making sure the utilities are paid in exchange for room and board. For other expenses, he ekes by with pocket money from family or small odd jobs.
Like his housemates, Stinson has a past that is not exactly squeaky clean – he has a record, but has stayed on the right side of the law for more than seven years.
His housemates – all ex-offenders – pay a $200 deposit then $100 a week to stay on Elizabeth Street. Having a permanent address is a condition of their parole, and the place is visited by parole officers who make sure things are on the up and up.
Shawn Torres, 40, also calls the place home.
Torres was released from prison in April. He’d been there for a parole violation, one of many that has kept him going back to prison after an initial 10-year-stint for homicide.
This time was different.
In the past, Torres said, he relied on family or a series of women to assist him after being paroled. This time he broke the cycle and moved into the house on Elizabeth Street. He got a job at McDonalds and also works a series of odd jobs.
But, two weeks ago a chasm opened up on his road to re-entry.
On Aug. 20, the man who owns the house sent a letter, addressed to Stephen Reichling, who is financially responsible for the unit that operates under the name Riech’s Transitional Housing, telling him that because the rent had not been paid for July and August, Stinson and the others would have to vacate the premises.
Stinson, who had deposited the rent he’d collected each Friday from his housemates in a local branch of TD Bank, said he was confused.
Telling the Tribune that he could only deposit in the account, not withdraw - Stinson provided five deposit slips totaling $1,430, which accompanied deposits starting June 18 – the rent is due on the 15th – and running through July 30. Stinson said that he deducts the expenses for household items from the rent.
He has not collected any rents yet for August, feeling it’s not fair to the tenants who have been asked to leave with less than two-week’s notice. However, he has advised all of the tenants to save that money in a sort of escrow.
After receiving the letter, Stinson said he called Reichling, who told him that he and the three tenants should be out by Sept. 1.
Reichling disagrees with that account, and several other things Stinson said. First of all, he will not force anyone onto the street, he said.
“I’ll give them a little bit more time,” said Reichling. “I’m not going to put anybody out on the street.”
Secondly, Reichling said the landlord started the eviction process two months ago, and Stinson has known about it much longer than two weeks.
He said Stinson, who he characterized as a business partner, has known that the unit is not making money, and has not been doing his part to keep the house full.
“I’m not the bad guy here. I want to help these guys,” Reichling said, noting that he was once an addict but has been clean and sober for 25 years.
By Reichling’s account, he’s been covering the cost of the empty beds out of his own pocket and simply can’t afford to do it anymore.
“The money is coming out of my pocket,” he said. “It’s not fair to me.”
Ultimately, the dispute leaves little breathing room for the tenants.
Torres said he’s not leaving – he can’t.
“I don’t have nowhere to go,” he said.
An official with the state parole board verified that any move would require a change of paperwork and a new home plan filed with a parole officer. Licensing of those houses is the city’s responsibility – the spokesperson for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections could not be reached Friday to verify whether Reichling had the appropriate licenses.
None of those details matter to Torres.
Without a permanent residence, he faces the possibility of going back to a halfway house - or even jail.
“I’m working. I’m doing fine. I don’t want to have go through all of that,” he said.
Torres and Stinson are both unsure what their next step will be.
“For me this is a starting point,” Torres said. “This has been first time I’ve actually took the effort to put myself in the right position for success. This is first thing I’ve called my own – where I’m comfortable. I’m doing this the best way I can. For this to happen – it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.”
Stinson is a similar position - he will be losing his home and his job.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m unemployed. This is what I do. I have to be here.”
Reichling said he too is stuck.
“I have to pay all this money back and I don’t have the revenue to pay the money,” he said.