Frankford property could house homeless vets

(lfrom the left) Sis­ters Branay, 10, Bi­anca, 7, Bri­anna, 14, and Belinda Jordan, 12, protest in front of a prop­erty on the 4800 block of Penn street, where a drug re­hab­il­it­a­tion cen­ter is sched­uled to be open soon. The Frank­ford com­munity in­sists that there are already 200 such cen­ters in their com­munity, and an­oth­er one will add on to the drug prob­lem, rather than help solve it, Monday, Ju­ly 9, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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 

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