[Hpn] Savannah GA Neighbors just say no to homeless

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 05 Jun 2001 14:25:45 -0700


Web posted Tuesday, June 5, 2001
Neighbors just say no

Union Mission officials are forced to confront angry residents who oppose
the organization's plans to convert Cohen's Retreat into a rehab center

By Mary Landers 
Savannah Morning News

About 200 neighbors turned out Monday at the old Cohen's Retreat to oppose
Union Mission's planned development of the former nursing home on Skidaway
Road into a drug and alcohol treatment center for the homeless.

Residents fear an influx of mentally ill or substance abusers to a
middle-class neighborhood proud of its parks, protective of its peace and
already put upon by city projects such as the Truman Parkway.

Dismayed locals made their point so loud and clear that the nonprofit agreed
to postpone by one month a planned June 19 Savannah Metropolitan Planning
Commission meeting.

The meeting started twice. First, about a hundred people crammed into the
home's foyer. John Lutz, Union Mission's chief operations officer, addressed
them. But residents kept coming. They filled the wide front porch and
stairs, unable to hear the proceedings.

So the meeting backed out the front door.

Standing under the "Savannah International Training Center" sign that told
of the now-vacant building's most recent incarnation, Lutz outlined the
three programs Union Mission proposed to develop if it bought the $975,000

* Move the nonprofit's Magdalene Project to the 16 cottages behind the main
building. Magdalene houses homeless women and their children.

* Create a 28-day alcohol and substance abuse program in half of the nursing
home. Clients would be fed into the program through programs such as Union
Mission's J. C. Lewis Health Center or Memorial Health's crisis
stabilization programs.

* In the other half of the nursing home, create a long-term transitional
living unit for patients who complete the 28-day program but aren't ready to
live on their own.

Lutz assured the crowd the Union Mission residents would be supervised 24
hours a day, seven days a week.

"They will not be roaming the neighborhood, unsupervised," he said. "That's
not the type of program we have."

Micheal Elliott, president of Union Mission, sought to assure, too.

"In my 12 years at Union Mission we've had three episodes of violence where
we had to call the police," he said.

A man in the crowd responded: "That's fine unless you're one of the three."

All three incidents were resident-to-resident violence, Elliott said.

Still, with few exceptions, the assurances from Union Mission failed to

Resident after resident voiced the same message, shouting to be heard over
the traffic on Skidaway Road.

Ron Webber, a six-year resident and President of the Magnolia Park
Neighborhood Association, was one of the dozens who spoke against the

"I fully support Union Mission and what you're doing in this town, but not
out here," he said.

The crowd whistled and applauded.

Webber went on to list setbacks the neighborhoods including Terrace Heights,
Bacon Park and Magnolia Park had endured: flooding, losing homes to the
Truman Parkway and a pumping station.

Two of the neighborhoods' local representatives County Commisioner Martin
Jackel and Savannah District 3 Alderman Ellis Cook said they opposed the

"Something like this could affect property values," Cook said. "I'm willing
to listen to whatever they have to say but I don't think it's a good thing
for the neighborhood."

The crowd scoffed at the notion that their neighborhoods could be compared
to others such as Fahm Street, East 34th and East 36th Street where Elliott
said Union Mission facilities haven't decreased nearby property values.

Few people supported the proposal. Maxine Harris, who lives a quarter-mile
from Cohen's Retreat, was one lonely voice.

She works with homeless people at her church, White Bluff United Methodist.

"They are absolutely just like you and I," she said.

Health reporter Mary Landers can be reached at 652-0337 or
landers@savannahnow. com

What happened:

The nonprofit Union Mission Inc. plans to purchase a former nursing home
Cohen's Retreat and use the Southside facility to treat substance abuse and
mental illness in homeless and very low income patients. Neighbors near the
building at Skidaway and Bona Bella roads met Monday to give their views on
the proposed new use.

What's next:

The use of Cohen's Retreat as a drug and alcohol rehab center for the
homeless has to be approved by the Metroplitan Planning Commission. That
hearing was initially planned for June 19 but will be postponed for 30 days.
In the meantime, Union Mission will meet again with residents on a date to
be announced. 

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