Inside the House of the Rainbow
Housing for ex-cons under fire following recent crimes
In a humble house by the railroad tracks, a recently released ex-con sits idly on a worn-out couch, smoking a cigarette and ashing in a tuna can. He’s explaining his views on society with an air of irreverence, as one who has seen just about everything.
He gives a pseudonym – Tom Bennett – to avoid getting in trouble for speaking with a reporter, and he declines to share any details that might identify him. And he has good reason to be afraid: at any time, he could be sent back to prison by word of the house’s owner, a contractor with the Illinois Department of Corrections. The owner, David Kettelkamp of Taylorville, owns six houses along the railroad tracks that border 10th Street, a few blocks north of St. John’s Hospital. The single-family houses each go by the moniker “House of the Rainbow,” and they offer housing to recent prison parolees who would otherwise be homeless.
The group of houses has come under increased scrutiny in the nearby Enos Park neighborhood because of a spate of suspected crimes including arson and murder. Although only one homicide has been tied to a parolee living at a House of the Rainbow property, the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association wants rid of the properties.
Steve Combs, president of the neighborhood association, points to a city ordinance that bans people designated sexual predators from living within 1,000 feet of one another. Because there is constant turnover in the House of the Rainbow properties, the ordinance may only prohibit Kettelkamp from housing more than one sexual predator at a time in his properties. Combs said the neighborhood association will consider pushing for a stricter ordinance in the future.
Combs also said there may be a zoning issue with the properties. They are zoned R-2, which is the designation for single-family or duplex homes under city ordinance. However, it appears the properties should be zoned R-3, the designation for residential uses like group community residences or rehabilitation homes. It’s unclear whether the houses went through the rezoning process before being used to house recent parolees, though Kettelkamp said he would consult his attorney on the matter.
Tom Bennett, the pseudonym-using parolee, says ex-cons living in a House of the Rainbow have almost no supervision beyond the occasional checkup by IDOC officials and police. Bennett says Kettelkamp could have him put back in prison with a call to IDOC, so he is guarded when speaking. During a reporter’s recent visit to the house, he described the houses as dirty, cockroach-ridden and lacking window screens. No vermin appeared during the visit, and the house appeared livable though minimal. The front and back doors stand open to let air pass through the sparsely-appointed house, and parolees seem to wander the house aimlessly. Some still wear the thin sandals they received in prison and the electronic monitoring anklet they received upon release.
It’s the natural outcome of being locked up for months or years: a criminal record and no money means no place to live. In some areas, parolees who committed certain serious crimes can’t live within specified distances of places like parks, and companies that will hire felons are rare at best.
There’s such a lack of housing for parolees that the Illinois Department of Corrections sometimes keeps parolees in prison past their release date.
Enter David Kettelkamp, the owner of the properties along 10th Street. His contract with IDOC shows Kettelkamp is paid $30 per day per regular parolee and $45 per day per sex offender. With a maximum of five people in each of his six houses, Kettelkamp stands to make $27,000 per month and $324,000 per year before taxes by housing regular parolees and even more by housing at least one sex offender. However, the actual amount could be less because the houses may not always be full.
Kettelkamp says he has housed more than 1,000 parolees along 10th Street since 2004. He says parolees usually stay at his houses between 60 and 90 days, with some returning to prison and some successfully reentering society. He adds that there have been no incidents of trouble before the June 1 homicide.
“It was one guy out of some thousand,” Kettelkamp said. “And that didn’t happen because he was a parolee; it was because of who he was.”
Asked if he and his fellow parolees are a danger to the neighborhood of Enos Park, Tom Bennett scoffs. He says the boarded-up house on Ninth Street where a homeless woman was found dead on June 1 is a well-known place where the homeless meet to do drugs, fight and sleep.
“The whole neighborhood is dangerous,” he says. “It’s a police issue with or without us.”
If Springfield’s rail consolidation project moves the Third Street tracks to the 10th Street rail corridor, the House of the Rainbow properties could become history. The houses sit about 50 feet from the tracks, which may be expanded to as wide as 140 feet.
Kettelkamp says if the rail consolidation forces him off of 10th Street, he plans to move his operation to the edge of town, where he’ll build a single large building with 24-hour security to house parolees.
“I’ve just got too much of my money tied up in this right now,” he said.
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.
Sexual predator ordinance: