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Sex offenders forced to leave Beckley house

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) A day after WVVA News broke news of sex offenders living in group housing in Raleigh County, Councilman-at-Large Tim Berry has confirmed the parolees have been forced to leave one of the addresses on Woodlawn Avenue.

According to Berry, the move stems from a zoning issue requiring the residence to be a single-family home. Right now, there is no word yet on where the offenders will be moving.

Pastor Eugene Blankenship of the LEAD academy oversees 30 sex offenders who are either recently paroled or on probation at three different locations in Raleigh County --- Parker Street in Coal City, Robert C. Byrd Drive in Beckley, and Woodlawn Avenue in Beckley.

Berry said Pastor Blankenship will have to apply for a permit to use the home as a transition house. After that, he said there will be a public hearing on the matter.

WVVA News spoke with Pastor Blankenship on Wednesday. He said he was in the process of attempting to find places for them, but that they will all need clearance from State Police.

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RALEIGH COUNTY, W.Va. (WVVA) When a couple of Coal City residents noticed a bunch of men living together on Parker Street a couple months ago, they started asking questions.

"None of these people have a certain look to them. They look like everyone else and you don't know," said Coal City resident Shelly Stump.

There are ten sex offenders living at the Parker Street location. One of the charges for one of the residents was Sexual Abuse of a Child under the age of five -- living right alongside families with children.

"No one told us about this," explained Coal City resident Chad Perkins. "We just had to figure it out from word of mouth."

The sex offenders living there are part of a state-approved 6-8 month program led by Raleigh County Pastor Eugene Blankenship. The residents are mostly those on parole and probation making the transition to life after incarceration. In total, he oversees 30 sex offenders at three different housing locations in Raleigh County -- one on Parker Street in Coal City; another on Woodlawn Avenue in Beckley; and a third on Robert C. Byrd Drive near the armory.

Pastor Blankeship said they are heavily supervised during their stay.

"We have cameras that record both video and audio. We have house leaders on site that attend leadership training and counseling. We have paid staff members that come each day for inspections. These are things that don't occur if sex offenders are not in this program."

During the day and after dark, the sex offenders are monitored with cell phone alerts that provide both Pastor Blankenship and their parole supervisors real time alerts. And they operate on a buddy system when they go out -- which he claims is above and beyond the level of supervision they would have if they lived alone.

The program also receives an upfront payment from the state for the first couple of weeks. Then, it is up to the sex offenders to find work and pay their way.

"These types of offenders are out there whether the LEAD academy exists or not...these folks are going to be living in our neighborhoods."

According to a spokesperson for the Division of Corrections, "the DCR has similar agreements with other programs that can effectively assist in an offender's successful transition from incarceration, though not all are specifically for sex offenders."

WVVA News also reached out to State Police in Beckley, the law enforcement agency responsible for monitoring sex offenders in the area. While troopers said the situation is obviously not ideal, Pastor Blankenship does help reduce the burden of managing the more than 300 registered sex offenders in the area -- many of whom live alone.

Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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