Portsmouth City Council met on Monday evening when an item on the agenda regarding Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority (PMHA) quickly became the main topic of discussion.
The ordinance, which was proposed for a first reading and requested to have additional readings waived to be passed as an emergency, was one to authorize City Manager Sam Sutherland to grant an easement to PMHA to use a section of property for ingress and egress between Thomas Ave., and Parcel No. 33-2681.000 subject to grant approval for the project of the Jan. 18 City Planning Commission hearing.
The proposal which is the initial step in an estimated $9 million project which would establish a transitional housing facility for 18-24 year olds who age out of the foster care system.
Peggy Rice, Executive Director of Metropolitan Housing Authority addressed council to explain why a facility of this nature is needed in the city.
“One of the things that we’ve been doing at the housing authority under my tenure is talking with our partners in the community about needs that exist in our community and what we can do to supply those needs and solve those problems. We’re excited, Shawnee Family Health and the Housing Authority is excited to come together and create a partnership, in which we can go into this endeavor to effect the lives of people in our community. Some of the most vulnerable members of our community some of the people who have the smallest voice, these are kids who have already been taken out of their homes and everything that they’re familiar with and placed into the foster care system, which already over taxed, and at the age of 18 they’re sent out into the real world to sink or swim,” said Rice. “I know with our local children’s services, I’ve spoken to the last two directors and this has been a great concern with them, because when they leave foster care it’s hard for children’s services to find them and to supply the needs that they have. These kids are going back to the situation they came out of, they’re couch surfing on anybody’s couch that will let them stay, or they’re ending up on the streets. When you go back to these situations they’re easy prey, and now you’ve got a child who needed us that’s a problem for us.”
Rice reported that an age count conducted last week returned young adults in this age group living on the streets. “When you say transitional age youth that is a scary thought, because people have different connotations on what that means. Transitional age youth are 18-24 year old kids who have aged out of the foster care system. What we want to do is help them become productive citizens, help them become productive parents, help them become productive workers in our community, help them have a chance that they really haven’t had in their lives due to the circumstances they were born into,” Rice said. “We are excited because of the things we are going to be able to offer these kids, we’re excited because we really stand a really good chance of bringing this to our city. This is a resource that is usually not available to us because it always goes to the larger cities. We’re looking at a 9 million dollar project here in the middle of Portsmouth. Our property is perfect for this because we’ll have green space. We have the real estate to have an area around this site in which these kids can feel safe. We have the ability to affect their safety and security, which according to our focus group is their main concern. We have the ability to work with these kids and design a system that will work for them, and develop the skills they need,” said Rice.
Rice added that along with the partnership, Shawnee Family Health will be on site, and said that emergency call systems will be in place for after hours and weekends, saying the building will have only one access point for people to enter and exit the building, where a security officer will be stationed to monitor incoming visitors.
Carissa Boggs of Shawnee Mental Health spoke in favor of the proposal stating a majority of kids that would be living in the facility have never been in trouble with the law, and are simply youth in need of proper guidance. Boggs stated the facility would be very much dorm like, and allow residents to feel safe and secure while pursuing an education, diving into the work force, or with things often taken for granted like getting a driver’s license.
Dr. Laura Fuller Director of Scioto County Children’s Services spoke on the current numbers of children in the foster care system. “We currently have 215 in our custody. Last year we had 6 kids that turned 18 and left our care,” Fuller said. “Most of these kids come from abuse and neglect and as any young adult they want to be on their own.”
Fuller said this facility would allow the children who age out of foster care to transition into adulthood while being provided with the necessary tools to do so. Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware spoke to council and addressed the project issues of necessity and safety.
“We have a serious problem here in Portsmouth that everybody knows about, and many agencies have been working together to identify short comings in our series, identify potential solutions to problems, and attempt to not only save the generation that’s addicted, but save the at risk youth that are vulnerable to the same cycle if we don’t interject,” said Ware. “ So in regards to the service itself, this is absolutely a service that has been identified by several providers and government agencies that if they can give these kids a fighting chance to grow up not in addiction, not in the criminal justice system, and not a victim of some of the sexual ills that we have.
“Let’s cut to the other issue that’s proposed, the location. As I told the planning commission and the residents of the two neighborhoods that are butted up against this property, I have an obligation as the chief to look out for your best interests, and also look out for the best interests of the city as a whole. I have familiarity of two such sites within the state of Ohio similar to what’s being proposed here. One in Dayton and one in Columbus. I will say that it’s all about how you build the property when it comes to security. The proposed site was named for a local sports hero, it’s been in disrepair for many years, we’ve found stolen property there, we’ve had suicides there, we’ve had homeless camps there, and other improper actives, all that are either illegal or jeopardize the communities behind it. The other issue raised is how to keep the criminal elements that infiltrate some of the metropolitan housing south of the proposed site out of this facility. I have both those questions, the same questions raised by the residents,” Ware said. “My promise to the residents and my promise to this body, and the community partners who are trying to make this project a reality, is that I will work with all groups and make sure that we do exactly that, improve the security and safety of the neighborhood, improve the safety and security of the residents of the facility, and keep the barriers between the properties safe and secure. I think if done properly and planned properly that you’ll actually enhance the security for all. I know that most people agree that this is a needed service, and some people are under the opinion “yes we need it, but don’t put it near me,” I believe we had similar complaints in 2017 when a residential program for women was started on offnere St., no one even knows it’s there now, because due diligence was given to make sure it remained safe and secure. I think the same thing could apply here. I’m standing in front of everybody to say that I will work diligently to make sure all concerns are addressed.”
While numerous individuals spoke in support of the proposal, those who reside in the neighboring area of the proposed project sight had their own set of concerns, Ware said.
Larry Mitchell of Orizaba Lane was the first Portsmouth resident to speak against the project. “We’re not against the project, we’re just against having it in our backyard,” said Mitchell. Mitchell claimed the land the facility is proposed to be built on is not suitable, and stated he believes there are much better locations in other parts of the city. Mitchell also stated that he along with his neighbors are worried about transients, and believes peer pressure from Wayne Hills will bring these youths into crime.
“You put at risk youth in that location, peer pressure is going to override counseling,” said Mitchell. Lastly, Mitchell stated flooding and sewer issues in this part of the city as an additional concern.
Mike Lallow spoke against the project and stated he had the same concerns as Mitchell had previously stated, but reiterated the fact that the facility is not the problem, but the location.
In total more than a dozen individuals addressed council in reference to the PMHA proposal, and after a brief deliberation council returned ready to make a motion. After no one stepped forward to waive the three reading rule, as requested, a motion was made to instead pass the item for a first reading.
5th Ward councilman Gene Meadows said he was also concerned with the location of the facility, and too felt that Kendall Heights (Wayne Hills) would have a negative impact on the residents of the facility. Meadows however welcomed more information on the project in the days prior to the Feb. 11 meeting, where council will then be obligated to make a final decision on the project.
Jo Ann Aeh, who represents the 2nd Ward, like Meadows, was concerned with how the facility would impact crime and effect property values.
Sean Dunne, 1st Ward, was the only council member present to speak in favor of the project and show his support for the transitional youth facility. When council voted on the motion to pass the item for a first reading, Meadows, Dunne, Aeh, and Albrecht voted in favor, while Johnson voted against the motion. Lowe was absent from the meeting, and excused by the present members.
In other matters of business, the ordinance to appoint Sam Sutherland to the position of city manager was tabled until the next meeting, while all other matters were passed.
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932