300-bed homeless facility proposed for Lumberton

Posted: March 05, 2014

Saying Burlington County needs to better serve the hundreds of homeless people within its borders, a faith-based group wants to create a 300-bed residence and training center for them in Lumberton - and some residents who live near the site have begun to organize in opposition.

To be called Community of Hope, the facility would be on a former Nike missile base at Municipal Drive and Eayrestown Road. In recent years, the five-acre site was home to the Midway School, which has closed.

"We started studying the question of what Burlington County needs five . . . years ago," Kent Pipes, president of the Affordable Homes Group in Westampton, said Monday.

A longtime advocate for the poor and homeless, Pipes said that after visiting several large and well-run homeless facilities in California, Texas, and "all across New Jersey and the Philadelphia area," he and other local advocates for the homeless began looking for a suitable site in Burlington County.

About a year ago, he said, they discovered that the former Army base was available. They later created a nonprofit group, Citizens Serving the Homeless Inc., which in February signed an agreement to purchase the site.

Word of the project only began to circulate among residents in the last week.

"It's not something I thought we'd have next to us when we bought here 18 years ago," said a woman whose home adjoins the site. "But I support efforts to care for the homeless, and am willing to listen to what [proponents of the project] have to say," said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.

Douglas Alba, a lawyer cited in some Facebook posts as a leader of the opposition effort, said Monday that he would not comment.

Township Committee member Jim Conway said he had heard through phone calls and e-mails that a number of residents plan to air their views of the project at the committee's regular meeting Tuesday.

The meeting begins 7:30 p.m. at the municipal building on Municipal Drive.

Conway noted, however, that the township "has not received any formal application about the project," and said its proponents had not requested time at Tuesday's meeting to make a presentation.

He said he did not know if the project would need a zoning variance.

A "point in time" count of the homeless last year found Burlington County to have the largest number of them - 671 - in the three-county area near Philadelphia. The count is conducted annually by the state for federal housing authorities. Results from this year's count, in January, have not yet been released.

Calling itself a faith-based entity, Citizens Serving the Homeless says on its website that its goal is to create a "multi-role facility" that will provide housing for one to 24 months for the homeless, help them find permanent homes, provide occupational training and employment assistance, and provide counseling for drug abuse and mental illness.

"We are not looking for a fight," said Pipes, a former Presbyterian minister. "But we are prepared to stand up for what we believe. If people want to get mad, let them get mad at the right thing. How about anger that homelessness exists? How about the lack of governmental response over the past 20 to 30 years? How about getting mad at Jesus, who called us to be obedient?"

The Rev. David Jost, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hainesport, who lives in Lumberton close to the proposed site of the facility, said he supports the project.

"If you're a homeless dog or cat in Burlington County, the county provides wonderful shelter," Jost said. "But if you're a homeless human being, the county does not."


doreilly@phillynews.com

856-779-3841 doreillyinq

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