North Philly immigrant youth center back on hold after city appeals

Several VisionQuest employees are seen departing in small groups from the North Broad Streetlocation to join other employees and members of the community at a March 2019 meeting at the nearby Old York House. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Several VisionQuest employees are seen departing in small groups from the North Broad Streetlocation to join other employees and members of the community at a March 2019 meeting at the nearby Old York House. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Plans to open a residential facility for undocumented immigrant youth in North Philadelphia are back on hold as city officials appeal a judge’s ruling.

Last week, Arizona-based VisionQuest got the green light to house teenagers intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border in a facility located just off North Broad Street. Common Pleas Court judge Paula Patrick said the city’s attempts to stall the opening of the facility through a zoning challenge were “capricious.”

City lawyers, however, appealed Patrick’s decision Monday and said the facility cannot open while that appeal is in process.

Philadelphia officials declined further comment on the case.

VisionQuest and the city have been in a long legal tussle over the planned facility.

The city said the youth-services company is in violation of its 2010 zoning permit. VisionQuest previously ran a center for adjudicated youth at the same location — the Grace Dix Center at 5201 Old York Road — but the center has since closed after state inspectors documented cases of physical and verbal abuse of children.

VisionQuest said it simply wants to provide immigrant youth with a safe place to stay, and that its existing permit for the site supports the proposed use. A lawyer for VisionQuest argued that immigrant youth are in mortal danger if they can’t be moved to a facility like the one VisionQuest wants to open.

Several VisionQuest employees anonymously told WHYY that staff members were not properly trained to oversee the teenagers that would be placed in their care by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

VisionQuest officials denied those allegations.

A spokesperson for VisionQuest did not respond immediately to WHYY’s request for comment.

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