Changes to Frankford boarding house aren't enough to appease neighbors

Members of both the Frankford and Northwood civic associations gather Sunday outside the proposed rehab house on Penn Street near Harrison in the city's Frankford section. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Members of both the Frankford and Northwood civic associations gather Sunday outside the proposed rehab house on Penn Street near Harrison in the city's Frankford section. YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 09, 2012

Frankford residents have had enough.

When they discovered several weeks ago that a massive three-story house would be used as a recovery home for at least 30 recovering male addicts, a block from Frankford High School, they quickly mobilized to fight it.

"Everybody needs help. It's not that I'm against that," said Jennifer Bennett, 34, who has lived for three years on the block where the house sits. "[But] there is so many [recovery] homes here already."

More than 50 residents voiced similar sentiments at a recent community meeting at Aria Health's Frankford campus, adding that Deacon Lamont E. Purnell, the new owner of the huge brick house on Penn Street near Harrison, had failed to reach out to the community and had begun construction without proper permits.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a "cease-work" order on Friday.

Following intense opposition to the project, Purnell, president and CEO of Innovative Treatment Alternatives Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides recovery services, training programs and educational services in Southwest Philadelphia, said he instead would use the house as a personal-care boarding home.

"It will have nothing to do with recovery," Purnell said, adding that the house — which has 11 apartments — would be staffed 24 hours. It will be for people with mental-health issues, physical disabilities and other ailments, he said. "We want to be a positive part of the community," he said.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, whose district has been flooded with boardinghouses and recovery homes, said she was against the original plan for the site and will use whatever resources she can to support the community. "We have made it clear to the city and zoning board that this area is a target, but very saturated," she said.

Rowland Lamb, the city's director of the Office of Addiction Services, said about 300 recovery homes are in the city, most of them in Frankford, Juniata and Richmond. The city provides $4 million for 18 of them. He said 128,000 Philadelphians are in recovery.

Purnell — also known as "Deacon the Beacon," according to his Facebook page — is a singer and songwriter who has battled addictions of his own. Despite Purnell's change of plans, Pete Specos, president of the Frankford Civic Association, said a planned protest in front of the property would still go on at 9 a.m. Monday, followed by a news conference at 11 a.m. Residents said they want to send a message.

"You don't stereotype us and just drop things here," said Veronica Daniel, who has lived next door to the property for 16 years. "How do I feel about it? I don't believe him. There should have been some special movement to touch us and be accountable." n

Contact Jan Ransom at 215-854-5218 or Ransomj@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.

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