WillBridge Inching Towards Acceptance at Peabody

By Joanna Reyes on Mar 22, 2011 at 11:48 AM in Success Stories
WillBridge Inching Towards Acceptance at Peabody

By Isabelle T. Walker

Though some naysayers still rankle at the prospect, the WillBridge supportive housing program intended for 2904 State Street is winning qualified acceptance among Peabody Charter School parents.

At Monday night’s public meeting–the first since that divisive February 1st City Council hearing–many parents signaled a willingness to give WillBridge a chance, but a handful shared frustration at having the project “forced” on them.

“I think we are all realize what you are doing is noble,” said one Peabody father. “Is the frustration you see in the attendance here tonight NIMBYSM? You bet it is. Unlike [Franklin and Notre Dame], Peabody is an open campus. People can walk on and off. What you’re telling us is that you’re going to be the arbiter of our children’s safety.”

The turnout Monday was less that it was for the City Council hearing. Between 40 and 50 parents and San Roque neighbors showed up to hear how the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara (HACSB) and WillBridge’s Executive Director plan to address their objections to having a facility for formerly homeless mentally ill people located 840 feet from their children’s school.

The meeting included presentations by Housing Authority CEO Rob Pearson, WillBridge executive director Lynnelle Williams and Transition House executive director (and WillBridge Board member) Kathleen Baushke.

Pearson gave a mini-lecture on the Housing Authority’s responsibilities and track record. Before and after shots of renovated Housing Authority properties inspired some parents to ask if a renovation might be planned for 2904 State. (Only fix-ups of interior rooms were planned for now, Pearson said.)

Williams’ presentation contained the nitty-gritty details parents longed for; such who exactly would qualify for the rooms, what rules would they have to abide by once chosen.

Williams said applicants must have succeeded in a transitional living program for at minimum 15 months, have a recommendation from their doctor and program director, have demonstrated personal responsibility and a motivation to move to greater independence, among other requirements. They will have to answer essay questions about why they want to live at the property, why they’re ready for more independence and submit to an interview.

“We’re digging pretty deep, looking for people who are standing strong and on their way,” said Williams.

Tenants would come from the Salvation Army Hospitality House, New Beginnings Safe Parking Program or WilliBridge’s own transitional living program. No one would come directly from the street. Every tenant would be get a criminal background check and sexual offenders and people convicted of a drug -related or violent offence wouldn’t be considered.
The committee that selects tenants will have two members of the community on it, and as the evening wore on, this became a point of great interest among parents. Would these “community representatives” have veto power, or would they be advisors? Who would they be? How would they be selected?

Pearson was careful to avoid signaling that tenant selection would be made by committee.

“If you run a business, you can’t run it by committee,” Pearson said. “We want input, but selection of tenants . . [would be made by Williams].
That comment triggered Joe Andrulaitis, father of a Peabody first grader, to say: “I’m afraid you’re just going to get a Peabody Parent who knows nothing about homelessness.”

Two Peabody dads asked if the program could be women only.
“I would feel better if I knew these would be all females,” said Sven Klein, who also sits on the Steering Committee.

After the City Council approved a 1.15 million dollar Redevelopment grant for the Housing Authority to purchase the former motel, Councilmembers postponed any decision on the WillBridge program, giving parents and Housing Authority officials a chance to negotiate.

A Steering Committee was appointed to address parental concerns. The 20- member committee includes Peabody parents, Housing Authority officials and San Roque Neighbors and has met once. In that meeting, all sides listened to one another, and directed Williams create a “Frequently Asked Question” sheet; a list of 26 questions that Peabody parents are most worried about. That sheet, and the answers, was handed out to parents at the meeting.

Some of the questions included things like, “What happens if WillBridge does not enforce its client ‘program rules’ or is otherwise not a good neighbor?” And: “Is alcohol or drug use or possession by clients allowed anywhere, anytime?” (The answer to the later is “no”.)

The program will have a 24-hour, 7-day on-site manager, Plus, WillBridge’s administrative offices will relocate to the property, adding additional oversight. Perason said WillBridge, with its outreach skills and staff, could even be a source of help and support if the street-homeless people now hanging around Upper State Street cause difficulty at the school or in the area.

The Steering Committee will now meet again. If enough of a consensus exists among its members, the matter will return to the City Council for consideration. Ultimately, they will decide if the Housing Authority can master lease the property to WillBridge or use it as general low-income housing stock instead.

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