Homeless Shelter Okd In Camden

Posted: February 14, 1986

Camden City Council last night approved a plan by the Volunteers of America (VOA) to open a shelter for 250 homeless people and abused women, despite objections by local residents that the shelter would "strain" the neighborhood.

Council voted 5-2 to accept a variance by the city Zoning Board of Adjustment for the shelter. Neighbors had appealed the variance.

"These are not homeless people. They're freeloaders," said Freddie Alvarado of the Bergen Lanning section of south Camden, where the VOA plans to renovate three buildings.

Towns in Camden and Gloucester Counties will send their homeless to the shelter, which the VOA has described as a "self-enclosed" facility that will offer assistance and counseling to the homeless.

"We're going to go to court," Alvarado told Council after the vote. ''This is not going to stop here. We feel something has been wrong with this project."

During a recent hearing before Council on the zoning decision, Lisa Rodriguez, attorney for the neighborhood group, maintained that the Bergen Lanning section was already straining to cope with an influx of prostitutes,

drug addicts and crime.

Rodriguez said that if Council approved the shelter, the local residents planned to appeal the action in state Superior Court. At the same hearing, Peter Rhodes, attorney for the VOA, said Council had lost its power to rule on the zoning board's decision because it had failed to act within the time limit mandated by state law.

"The only fault I had with the protest from the neighbors was that you were proposing to deny these people a place to stay," Councilman Charles Greene told Alvarado last night, while about a dozen Bergen Lanning residents heckled him from the audience.

"You were proposing to deny them their constitutional rights. . . . As residents, you don't have the right to tell people, 'You can't live next door to me,' because you are assuming they will be bad people," Greene said.

After the meeting, Council President Arnold W. Webster said he had supported the VOA's plan because "we have a moral obligation to provide for the ones who are less fortunate."

"If you play political football and send them from one community to another, you're going to face the same situation everywhere," Webster said.

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