East and West Oak Lane neighbors unite to protest transitional housing

East and West Oak Lane residents are in an uproar over plans to bring transitional housing for recovering addicts and their children to 6433 North Broad Street. More than 50 people protested Wednesday evening, blocking northbound traffic on Broad Street and waving neon green and orange signs.

Protestors fear that the housing planned by Gaudenzia, Inc. will lower property values, burden local schools, and bring additional drug traffic. 

A small counter protest was held in favor of the trasitional housing.

The site will house about 20 families composed of single women with up to three children each. The women residents are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Gadi Aronson, Gaudenzia director of development said, “This is not a treatment program. This is strictly housing for people who have completed treatment.”

The vacant, foreclosed former Shelton Court apartment building was purchased by Gaudenzia Inc. for $495,000, according to Gadi Aronson, Gaudenzia’s director of development. The protest was organized by David Weston, president of Oak Lane Community Action Association (OLCCA) and the Reverend Dr. Charles Leonard, head of the West Oak Lane Concerned Citizens Association (WOLCCA).  Leonard is pastor at the Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at Broad Street and Chelten Avenue, across the street from the new Gaudenzia site.

Several of the protestors were under the impression that men would also be living in the facility.  However Aronson said that was not the case.

 

Protestors said that Gaudenzia informed neighbors that the children of the recovering parents will have emotional needs.

“With that issue we’re looking at an influx of up to 60 children at the local elementary school that have emotional needs,” said Weston.

The corner of Broad Street and Chelten Avenue, down the street from the new site, has long been a hot spot for drug activity — another concern for neighbors.  Within the last year, there have been 139 arrests on that corner, according to Weston. Residents also noted that a Beer Mart sits less than half a block away and a liquor store is on the corner across the street.Neighbors fear the Gaudenzia residents will relapse.

Gaudenzia will have staff and security from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Staff will be on-call after hours. 

East and West Oak Lane residents feel that their concerns have been neglected by city council members. “Tasco dropped Oak Lane,” a protest sign read, referring to 9th District Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “Because the election is over they don’t care, ” said Lamont Thomas, (D), who lost the May 2011 city council primary challenge to Tasco last May. He attended the protest yesterday. “ They only come around when it’s convenient”. Had it been in April or May, he said, “you would have every elected official…here.”The building’s blighted condition will call for significant renovations. Mounds of trash bags, broken malt liquor bottles, beer cans, cigarette buds, and shattered glass crowd the entire rear of the building. The walls are marked with graffiti.  However, according to Aronson, $6.3 million will be allotted to the development.

The facility will inevitably be identified as a “drug building.” said Sharon Wilson, vice president of the OLCAA:

“Not only… is that bad for the neighborhood, it’s bad for the children and residents who are going to be there.” Wilson said. “Why should they live in a stigmatized building?”

In response, Aronson says, “These are folks who have their heads together and want to get it right.  Some of these women are studying for degrees.”

Business owners in the area, such as Kelly McShain Tyree, owner of the Under the Oak Café, are worried about real estate values dropping as a result of Gaudenzia’s arrival.

Yet other neighborhood residents turned out to support Gaudenzia.

East Oak Lane resident Dwayne Johnson said he’s been clean of heroin for seven years after finishing the ToughLOVE program in North Philadelphia. “If not love, what are we doing for people that need to recover?” he said.“They’re coming here for recovery. If you throw them away now, where else are they going to go?” Lisa Clement, West Oak Lane resident said.OLCAA and WOLCCA leaders said they plan to seek an injunction to halt Gaudenzia’s development of the site.

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