Lumberton homeless shelter plan stirs neighbors' opposition

The Community of Hope, proposed at a former missile base, would shelter 50 to 60 homeless adults. Neighbors say that they are not uncaring but that a shelter is wrong for the area. Supporters say such fears are wrong.
The Community of Hope, proposed at a former missile base, would shelter 50 to 60 homeless adults. Neighbors say that they are not uncaring but that a shelter is wrong for the area. Supporters say such fears are wrong. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 07, 2014

With regard to the homeless services campus proposed for his tidy Lumberton Township neighborhood, Danny Clevenger has two words.

"Too close," the retired union laborer says. His house stands less than a block from the former Nike missile base where advocates want to build a $1 million "Community of Hope."

The 14-acre complex would shelter 50 to 60 homeless adults (not 300, as some critics claim) and provide day services to an additional 200 or more.

The advocates say Community of Hope would make seamless, more effective, and less costly the current patchwork of public and private programs. An estimated 1,300 adults and children are homeless at some point in a typical year in Burlington County.

During the winter that just ended, 224 different adults were sheltered in churches and makeshift accommodations on extremely cold nights. The total doesn't include the 400 other homeless people receiving assistance through the county on those nights.

"I'm sorry that homeless people are down on hard times," Clevenger, 66, says. "I feel for them. But I don't want them roaming around here."

He's not alone. Residents of the pleasant cluster of neighborhoods along Municipal Drive near Eayrestown Road have formed an organization called Lumberton Cares to fight the proposal.

They have retained a lawyer, Frank Tedesco, of Cherry Hill, and put together a nine-member board of trustees. Committees have been formed to handle matters such as government relations, community outreach, and marketing.

Residents have been advised not to speak to the media or to representatives of Citizens Serving the Homeless, the nonprofit, faith-based alliance behind the plan.

"Anything we say will be used against us in an attempt to paint us as uncaring and unsympathetic," Lumberton Cares president Renee Myers recently wrote on Facebook.

On Friday, Tedesco said he was not available to speak to me, and Myers did not respond to a message I left with a family member at her home.

So much for "marketing."

However, several residents of the neighborhoods nearest the site were willing to chat when I visited Thursday.

Jerome Greer, 51, a mail handler who has lived across Municipal Drive from the site for 10 years, invited me to join him on his front porch.

"My heart goes out to the homeless, but there should be more information given to the people here," he said. "Will these homeless be people released from some type of mental institution? Would they end up wandering around the neighborhood, knocking on doors?"

"There's no transportation to get people in and out of there," said Joe Muoio, 57, an aerospace battery assembler who was walking his dog, Chase.

"They're going to be treating people for alcohol and drug abuse, and mental illness. People are afraid for their kids, and [about] their houses being broken into."

Kent Pipes and Madelyn Mears-Sheldon, who are heading up Citizens Serving the Homeless, say the long track record of the participating agencies ought to help calm such fears.

"We're not naive," said Pipes, who, like Mears-Sheldon, has been on the front lines against homelessness in Burlington County for nearly three decades.

"Homelessness isn't a disease," Mears-Sheldon said.

She's right. And the Community of Hope offers the right approach.

If only it weren't proposed for the wrong location.

The campus would be more than a mile from public transportation, from potential employers, from pretty much everything - except neighbors who seem unlikely to roll out the welcome wagon.

Those 14 acres may be a sweet real estate deal. But the Community of Hope deserves a better home. Perhaps the good people of Lumberton Cares can assist Citizens Helping the Homeless in finding one.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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