Portsmouth City Council met on Monday evening and ordinances regarding Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Authority’s proposed transitional youth facility once again became the main topic of discussion, with council passing two ordiances allowing the project to move forward after some debate.
PMHA representatives, Shawnee Mental Health representatives, and neighbors who reside adjacent to the proposed facility site were among those who addressed council. While some spoke in favor of the transitional youth home, others spoke against the location of the project, and a third portion of those in attendance spoke in favor of the city granting PMHA an easement so that, in any case, Edgewood Drive would not be disturbed.
Cynthia Holstein Executive Director of Shawnee Mental Health Center addressed council in attempts to clear up concerns regarding the targeted population for the project. Holstein read from the project’s application letter that was provided to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. “The development targets transition-aged individuals, some of whom have children, who are homeless, at imminent risk of homelessness and extremely low income (30% or below the Area Median Income),” read Holstein. “The facility will be all new construction and will meet current code requirements for accessibility. The Primary target population for the development is homeless, imminently homeless youth aged 18-24, who are identified through the local coordinated entry system, foster care system, and or courts. These youth are at high risk of long-term homelessness, criminal justice involvement, exploitation, and separation from their own children, with approx. 30% parenting youth.”
Holstein stated that according to a recent study, 84% of youth aging out of foster care come out with trauma or mental health issues, and that 1 in 4 youth aging out of foster care that do not receive intermittent support end up incarcerated within two years of leaving the system. While Holstein stated a majority of the population will have a mental, physical, or emotional impairment, including but not limited to impairments caused by alcohol or drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder or mental illness.
“That does not mean that all of these youth will have an impairment or addiction problem, “ Holstein said. “Some will though, because you do not go through what these youths have gone through and come out unscathed.”
Holstein said there are no plans to bring in youths from Cleveland or other cities, and the facility would serve the local community.
Larry Mitchell, a concerned citizen of Orizaba Lane who voiced his opinions on the project at a previous meeting, restated his belief that this project should find a new location. Mitchell stated that the facilities location near Kendall Heights would create a negative environment for a vulnerable population, while disrupting a quiet community. “All you have to do is look at the police reports and see that it’s one of the highest crime areas in the City of Portsmouth,” said Mitchell. “There’s so many other issues that have not been explained, I think that they’re putting the cart before the horse. I don’t think it’s been planned out real well.”
Mitchell stated he felt community members should have had an opportunity to be informed on the project, and requested that a public forum be held to voice all concerns. “We don’t want it in our neighborhood,” Mitchell said.
Sandy Bates, a resident of Edgewood Drive, addressed council to encourage them to grant the easement of Thomas Avenue. “I would just like to reiterate once again that a lot of citizens are here with me tonight from Edgewood Drive,” said Bates. “The only reason we’re here is not to slam the project, whether we agree with it or not…, all we’re asking is that if her project is going to go, that’s all good, but we’re asking council to please grant her another easement so she’s not forced to use the easement that she has through Edgewood Drive.”
More than 16 people spoke on the record regarding the PMHA project before council moved into the legislation portion of the evening. To allow time for discussion of the item, Councilwoman Jo Ann Aeh made a motion to pass item b, the ordinance granting PMHA an easement on Thomas Avenue, as a second reading, and agreed to withdraw the motion should the item be revisited after it was discussed. “We’ve heard a lot here,” said Aeh. “The one thing that I have been concerned with, is it was presented to the planning commission, and council and it sounded as the priority was these young kids coming out of foster care. I had questions because of the age of 24 and two and three bedroom apartments. It was again expressed the kids coming out of foster care, you heard what the priority population would be, they left out that some will be from existing residential treatment centers, meaning they are being treated for addiction or be court involved for a variety of offenses.”
Aeh stated that the project is being presented as a facility for transitional youth when in reality they will be the last to be considered. “What we’re hearing a lot of is we don’t want it here but if we’re going to be forced to have it there, we don’t want it to come down Edgewood and I agree with that 100%,” said Aeh. “What I’m going to suggest is that we amend this ordinance to say that if we give them the right of way they deed over their easement and right of way to the City of Portsmouth.”
Aeh stated that if the project was to move forward regardless, an easement would eliminate interference with Edgewood Drive, but commented that she feels council was misled on the nature of the project.
“I don’t like a lot of this,” stated Councilman Kevin Johnson. “I like what you’re doing. I don’t like that you came to council last minute with this. That’s not the way you present this kind of project. To the folks at Orizaba to Edgewood especially, I don’t want to see the access be on Edgewood. I don’t want to see anything happen to your properties. Orizaba, Edgewood, this is the best we can do on this.”
Aeh withdrew her motion to pass the item for a second reading and made a separate motion to amend the language of the ordinance to reflect the exchange of easements.
Council voted to amend the ordinance, and Councilmen Sean Dunne made a motion that the amended ordinance be passed. The vote was unanimous and the ordinance was passed by council. The second ordinance approving the City Planning Commission recommendation submitted by PMHA to permit the use of the parcel in question as a large scale neighborhood project subject to grant approval was altered to reflect the changes made in the other ordinance, and was also passed by council.
In other business: an ordinance authorizing the appropriation of $75,000 from a designated Waterworks fund to new WTP Fund for payment to complete a study was passed.
Reach: Ivy Potter