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Halfway house in the neighborhood? No way

Whether it’s a hospital, animal shelter, subdivision, baseball field, Internet transmission tower or halfway house, you hear a familiar refrain: “I think it’s a good thing, but not in my neighborhood.”
That theme was spoken again and again Monday night at the Corydon Town Council meeting as Floyd Street residents said they understood the need for a halfway house for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but they don’t want it in their neighborhood.
The town council was considering a recommendation made unanimously last week by the nine-member Corydon Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a change in zoning from R1 (single family dwelling) to R3 (multiple family dwelling) on the 2-1/2-acre Stith family lot so the non-profit organization House of New Beginnings could purchase the property and build a halfway house.
As she explained to the zoning board last week, former Harrison County public defender Leah Fink said a new $600,000 to $800,000 dormitory-style facility would have rooms for 32 residents. There would be a live-in manager with 24-hour staff supervision. The residents would be drug and alcohol abusers who had voluntarily checked themselves in for rehabilitation or been sent there by the courts. They would be required to hold a job, pay rent, do chores at the house, attend AA or similar meetings nightly, and follow strict rules, including an 11 p.m. curfew.
If the residents referred by the courts (perhaps 90 percent of all residents) don’t obey the rules, they would go back to jail. The average length of stay would be 90 days to six months. Potential residents are screened by the judge, probation officers or prosecutor’s office, said Harrison Superior Court Judge Roger Davis, who supports the project.
Harrison County has no halfway house. People who want to change their life with rehabilitation must go to another county for professional help.
Despite all the facts, reassurances, and an impassioned plea by a recovering alcoholic who has been trying to get into a halfway house, the neighbors were undeterred.
And despite all the reasons voiced for not building the halfway house on Floyd Street, plus the presentation of a petition with 26 names against the project, the town council approved the zoning board’s recommendation unanimously after listening to residents’ concerns.
Bob Lawalin, who lives one street over on Franklin Street, asked why it had to be located in a residential neighborhood, where it invites “too much of a risk.” He said it needs to be somewhere else, away from children and the elderly.
Darrell Benningfield said he was concerned about the backgrounds of the men who live there. He said he’s all for such a facility but worries that child molesters may be living there.
Judge Davis said the house would be managed at all times by paid staff. Prospective residents are screened; criminal background checks will be run.
“No, I don’t intend to send any murderers or child molesters up there,” Davis said. Fink said no felons with serious convictions, like drug traffickers, would even be considered. “They’re in prison. This is not an option for more serious offenders,” she said.
Jay Marlow asked if officials had considered other locations, like the old county jail or the hospital, which hopes to move to a new location in northwest Corydon. Marlow asked the judge if he would like to have the halfway house next to his home. Davis said he wouldn’t mind, but he lives in the country, and the facility should be in town where residents could walk to work. The county commissioners have other plans for the jail, which may not be suitable for a halfway house, even with remodeling, and nothing is certain about the future of the hospital.
Would the residents work, the judge was asked. Davis said when the alternative is jail, residents tend to find work very quickly. “We want them to find work,” he said.
Homer Wiseman asked why the halfway house wasn’t located a couple of blocks away, north of The Next Step on Big Indian Road, a meeting place for AA and Al-Anon and other groups. There are no fire hydrants there, and neighbors objected to that idea, too, a couple of years ago. Town council president Fred Cammack said that site is on the Ramsey Water Co. system. Corydon does not run its sewer lines to a different water system. A facility that large would require a sewer system, not a septic system.
“That was the first site we looked at,” said Fink.
Chief Probation Officer Diane Harrison said her staff supervises 1,600 people on probation. People who are sent to a halfway house probably wouldn’t be in the court system if it weren’t for drinking problems, she said. “Recovery is so essential. They need help so they’ll stop offending.” This program is not for child molesters and burglars, she said.
Kevin Purvis of Bradford said he heard about the meeting in court that day. “I’m an alcoholic,” he said, addressing the people at the meeting. “I’ve not been in any trouble except for drinking.” When he was in jail last summer, he got interested in AA and started reading “the Big Book.” When he got out of jail, he wanted to get into a halfway house for rehab but was put on a waiting list. In the meantime, he has been trying to work on his alcohol problem by going to 90 AA meetings in 90 days. He said he would be late to his meeting Monday night, his 89th, because he wanted to speak at the council meeting.
Purvis said he knows men in jail who would rather stay there than go to a halfway house because they know they would start drinking again. The halfway house is for those who want to stop drinking. “It’s for somebody who’s looking for help,” he said.
Counselor Wayne Buchinsky, who helped start Serenity House in New Albany about 27 years ago, said, “If we don’t help these people, they will be out in the streets. They just don’t sit home and do nothing. That’s where your accidents will happen.”
Benningfield said, “If the judge can show us, can guarantee us, that all 32 guys will be like this man, well, maybe so.”
The judge and Fink said the halfway house will have a screening committee, and they’re looking for volunteers to step forward.
Britton Mitts said people who go to The Next Step cut through his yard, and things in his yard are always being stolen. Homer Wiseman also expressed concerns about trespassing.
Dawn Lawalin said the people who approved the zoning change don’t live in her neighborhood. She said the site would be right across from her backyard. She said the hospital would be a better site if and when it becomes available.
There was an audible gasp in the audience when she said, “I would rather have a dog pound behind my house.”
Benningfield and Bill Stepro said everyone in the neighborhood knows each other. Kids ride their bikes and play there now without fear. They are afraid that would change with a halfway house close by.
“Where you’re wanting to put it is the whole problem,” Stepro said.
Dawn Lawalin wondered aloud why anyone could be so certain that the drug and alcohol abusers would follow the house rules if they couldn’t follow rules in the first place.
Buchinsky said people are in the recovery process to learn how to change their life, which means people learn to look at life differently, and they have to learn to respect rules. “Some people do change,” he said.
Harrison, the probation officer, said, “I’m not going to recommend someone if they’re not ready when someone who wants sobriety is waiting for a bed. We look for someone who has the desire to get sober.”
Fink said property to the south and west is already zoned R3. Much of the property will be buffered with woods. “We feel like we can fit in,” Fink said. “We’re all committed to being good neighbors. There will be a board that meets regularly and they don’t want any yahoos or a bad reputation.”
“In the back of everyone’s mind,” said Benningfield, “is property values. The House of New Beginnings is a beautiful name, but how will we get our money back on our property? Everything these people ever worked for is there.”
Jay Marlow said he talked to a realtor who told him the halfway house would definitely lower their property value. “The question is, will this board listen to us, or will we have this crammed down our throat?”
Others, like Fink, believe a new half-million-dollar facility would have the opposite effect and increase property values.
Fink said her board looked at about 10 other sites before settling on this one.
Marlow presented a petition signed by 25 people. “We do not want this, period. We do live there,” he said.
In other business, the town council approved Art on the Square for Saturday and Sunday, May 17 and 18. Sean Hawkins asked for the dates on behalf of the South Harrison Community School Corp., which sponsors the festival in Corydon. Hawkins, the community development manager for the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he thinks the festival will be much better this year because more money will be spent on advertising.
Larry Bennett was reappointed to another two-year term representing the town on the CVB board.
The town will also ask its engineering consultant, Midwestern Engineers of Loogootee, to inspect the old lift station on Dutch Street to see if it needs to be replaced. The lift station serves the homes on Dutch Street and Donnie Brown’s subdivision behind the Corydon Presbyterian Church.
The town asked town attorney Ronald W. Simpson to send a letter to John Holsclaw asking him to clean up the junk at his Village Blacksmith shop opposite the Constitution Elm on High Street.
“People come to town to see the Constitution Elm and they have to look at that. We’ve had several complaints,” said Cammack.