Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neighbors complain about (scapegoat?) the behavior of foster care alumni

Youth home stirs criticism:
Home of the Innocents runs Deer Park site
Elson, Martha. Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 14, 2007, pg. A1.

The Home of the Innocents has taken steps to improve communication and be more accessible to neighbors in response to complaints about a transitional apartment building it operates on Rutherford Avenue.

Most of the complaints are about noise and trash, said Art Cestaro, president of the Deer Park Neighborhood Association. His group met last week to discuss the situation, after some residents spoke about it at the group's Jan. 11 meeting.

The four-plex began operating about 15 years ago as a residence for unmarried teenage girls with children. Some neighbors expressed concern at the time.

Over the years the building has become a transitional residence for males and females 18 to 20 who have been in state foster care. They must be in school, have a job or both. They can live there up to two years.

Following last week's meeting, neighborhood resident Charles Schanie said there have been problems with loud parties and music, foul language, trash in the streets and yards, and fights.

Schanie said he and his wife, Connie, support the mission of the Home of the Innocents but the residents need better supervision.

"You don't expect that sort of thing in a middle-class neighborhood," he said. "They need to control what goes on inside that building."

"We will redouble our efforts to be good neighbors," Gordon Brown, the home's executive director, said after the meeting. "I think there have been some incidents we would not have approved of.... We respect everyone's rights to have a peaceful existence."

He said the residents should not be a threat to anyone and described them as "kids facing adulthood pretty much on their own." Home of the Innocents staff members pick up trash, he said.

Several Home of the Innocents representatives redistributed phone and beeper numbers to neighborhood residents at last week's Deer Park meeting, and the home plans to resume sending a representative to monthly association meetings.

"When problems occur, they can be brought to people's attention quickly," Cestaro said. "If we talk, I think we can stay on top of everything. People have a right to be comfortable in their houses."

The Home of the Innocents, headquartered at 1100 E. Market St., is a 127-year-old organization that cares for abused, neglected and medically fragile children. It also offers foster care and other programs for children and older youth.

Another controversy has arisen recently over Brooklawn Family & Children's Services plan to move up to eight boys ages 16 to 18 to a home that the residential center for emotionally disturbed youth bought as a transitional residence on Schuff Lane, off Newburg Road.

Some residents have objected on the grounds that it's a dormitory and is not appropriate in the neighborhood.

Brown emphasized that the Home of the Innocents' youths are living in apartments and said the operation is no different from other transitional residences that operate in the community, including three in Crescent Hill, where he lives.

Durenda Dolan, another neighbor, said she also has heard loud music and foul language but that it's "not much worse" than what goes on among other teenagers on the street. She doesn't think the behavior of the apartment residents is malicious and said people just tend to be afraid of "anything they don't know."

Up to six young adults can live in three of the apartments and a resident supervisor lives in the fourth, Brown said. Four employees also work at an office in the building.

The Home of the Innocents bought the building for $149,000 in 1991, according to county records.

Brown said the apartment building has security cameras that can be viewed in the resident supervisor's apartment, and a Home of the Innocents security officer visits each night.

"We feel like we have good supervision," Brown said, adding, "We get blamed for every little thing that happens."

Brown said the Home of the Innocents has "never been able to validate most of the complaints" and that there have been no police runs to the home for any incidents related to errant behavior.

Metro Councilman Tom Owen said he had talked with the Schanies in the past and was pleased with the "open discussion of concerns" at last week's meeting.

Cestaro and Owen said a series of break-ins and a reported armed robbery of an apartment dweller across Bardstown Road before Christmas stirred up concerns and suspicions in the neighborhood. Charles Schanie said his garage was broken into three months ago and items were stolen.

Cestaro and Owen said police have found no connection between those incidents and the apartments.


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