Neighbors have feared the new owners at 4834 Penn St. were going to use the property for a recovery house, something that is far from rare in Frankford.
That’s not the case, Deacon Lamont Purnell and Preston Pickett of Innovative Treatment Alternatives Inc. have maintained repeatedly, and they brought details to last week’s Frankford Civic Association session.
They said they want to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide housing for homeless vets. They handed out five-page descriptions of their proposal to about 15 people who attended the civic group’s meeting Aug. 2 at Aria Health’s Frankford campus.
“It will be a sober environment,” Purnell said of his plan. “It will be safe and stable.”
That notion was questioned by Debbie Klack of the Frankford Historical Society.
“We have open-air drug sales in this neighborhood,” she said. “Why would you subject veterans to this?”
Purnell, who described himself as a veteran and a “person in recovery,” said open-air drug sales are everywhere in Philadelphia.
This veterans housing plan was first brought up at the July 26 meeting of Northeast EPIC Stakeholders.
At the mid-July meeting of the Northwood Civic Association, Purnell had told a packed room at St. James Church that he wanted to use the Penn Street house as a “personal-care boarding home.” That idea was not well-received. Public officials, the civic group’s leaders and neighbors told Purnell to come up with another use.
The boarding home actually was Purnell’s Plan B, he said. The original idea was to use the property for a drug-rehabilitation program.
City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.) told Purnell she didn’t want another drug program in Frankford. Neighbors who had heard about the original proposal complained to the councilwoman as renovations were starting in early July. A city inspector issued a stop-work order on July 6 because there were no construction permits, and residents picketed the property on July 9, chanting, “No more rehab in Frankford.”
Rehabilitation facilities and boarding houses for addicts known as “recovery houses,” both legal and illegal, are common in Frankford. Many residents have complained about them and said they didn’t want to see any more. Members of the Frankford Civic Association, in particular, have stated they believe facilities for people with addiction problems damage the neighborhood and discourage business development.
On July 9, the day neighbors picketed, Purnell agreed to come up with a business plan and to present it to successive neighborhood meetings, the last of which was last week’s Frankford Civic Association session.
He took the blame for problems he and Pickett had.
“This is our first housing project, and we did some things wrong,” he said. “But we did not do them intentionally.”
In their handouts, Pickett and Purnell said Innovative Treatment Alternatives was founded in 1992 as a non-profit group to help people with behavioral problems and to provide educational and vocational training as well as help with substance abuse. ITA’s programs are conducted in West and North Philly as well as Wilmington, Del.
As conceived, Purnell’s plan is for separate apartments for homeless vets, both men and women. Residents would live independently, he said, providing their own meals and furniture. He said rent would be paid by vouchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Innovative Treatment Alternatives, he said, would provide no treatment or services other than having a staff member live on the property so that it is supervised every day.
“This is a landlord situation,” he said. “[Vets] get a place to stay. We don’t provide food … or anything. It’s an apartment.”
Because the building would be used as apartments, which is its current use, no zoning variances would be needed, he said. A personal-care boarding home would require a zoning variance.
Purnell said the idea is to help veterans to get on their feet. They’ll get month-to-month leases, he said, estimating the average stay will be six months to a year.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 60,000 vets are homeless and 94 percent are single men. About half of those veterans suffer from mental illness and more than two-thirds have alcohol or drug problems, according to the VA, which said almost 40 percent have both psychiatric and substance-use disorders.
The Penn Street property will accommodate 20 to 24 veterans, Purnell said, with women living on the first floor. Veterans must meet admissions criteria. They must be honorably discharged, age 25 or older and referred by Veterans Affairs. They must be ambulatory and cannot have mental illnesses. Those with a history of violent crimes such as murder, rape or pedophilia will not be considered.
Purnell said veterans will be housed through HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program. According to the VA, HUD-VASH is a joint U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA program that aims to move vets and their families out of homeless into permanent housing.
According to the VA, HUD provides housing assistance vouchers that allow vets to rent privately owned housing, and the VA offers eligible homeless vets clinical and supportive services through its health-care system.
The number of veterans who will live in each apartment and the amount of rent have yet to be worked out with Veterans Affairs, Purnell said. There are no blueprints of the building layout yet. Pickett said contractors have been on the property, not to work, but to gather information for estimates.
Once Pickett and Purnell have blueprints, they should again visit the civic association, said Pete Specos, the civic group’s president and zoning officer. ••The civic association’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Aria Health’s Frankford campus, 4900 Frankford Ave.EndFragment