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Once a jail, soon homes for needy. Atlantans donate services to low-income project

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``You won't see a public-housing project with Greek-revival columns and concrete walls 42 inches thick anywhere else in the country,'' says Renny Scott, the enthusiastic director of the Glencastle project. The formidable-looking structure Mr. Scott is describing is the Stockade - Georgia's oldest standing prison, built between 1887 and 1910. The penitentiary, which closed its doors in 1929, stands less than a five-minute drive east of Atlanta's capitol dome and bustling downtown.

Until recently, the vacant structure - which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites - was filled with broken glass, rusted bars, and pigeons. Kudzu vines still cover the front steps and drape the barred windows. Although the prison had been boarded up, local youths vandalized the interior and sprayed the walls with graffiti. Drug dealers sold cocaine in the stairwells, and vagrants slept on the cool cement floors.

Today, the prison is the site of an innovative housing complex and community center for Atlanta's working poor. With the aid of private businesses, the Family Consultation Services Inc. (FCS), a local urban ministry, plans to convert the old prison compound into an apartment complex and community center for the city's working poor.

``Many people must choose between paying grocery bills and paying rent,'' Scott says. ``Glencastle will become an entry point for stable community living.''

In Atlanta, as in many other American cities, low-cost housing is limited. Although the Atlanta Housing Authority recently placed almost 1,000 families in newly renovated units, according to deputy director Bettye Davis, about 650 families are still on the waiting list. Anita Beatty of the Homeless Task Force says that some families are so frustrated by the waiting that they won't even apply for housing.

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