Monday, July 14, 2014

Residents push back at plan to open West End homeless shelter

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 3:40 PM

A plan to open a massive women-and-children homeless shelter in West End has evaporated amid scrutiny from neighborhood residents.

Last Wednesday, more than 125 people showed up at the Neighborhood Planning Unit-T meeting at the KIPP STRIVE Academy in Westview to hear about the plan for Haven 4 Hope, a new organization formed by Tawana Allen, a Gwinnett County sales rep who says she grew up in West End and still attends church in the neighborhood.

The proposal called for the construction of “campus” housing for up to 200 homeless women with children on unidentified city-owned land somewhere near West End Mall. In addition, Haven 4 Hope would buy up abandoned houses in the area and sell them to the women, who would be pre-approved by financial institutions after undergoing two-year education programs.

“We’re looking to make these homeless women homeowners, and by doing so, we’re building up the community,” Allen told the crowd.

But a huge turnout and loud opposition showed how the idea touched a nerve in a neighborhood that sees itself as up-and-coming, but is sometimes stereotyped by outsiders as needing “help." Many residents felt like the plan was little more than a well-intentioned dream and a PowerPoint presentation.

When pressed for details, she either cited confidentiality or was forced to backpedal. She claimed that the campus could be bought immediately, and even open its doors by next January, but she declined to reveal the shelter's potential location or name its financial backers.

The group, which was formed in April, does not yet have official nonprofit status, Allen said. She distributed a pamphlet that lists Bank of America as a “partner” on the future homebuying program, but told CL that “we’ve not made that contact yet.”

Allen said that Haven 4 Hope would soon go before the Atlanta City Council to make an offer on the property, and told the crowd that the group is talking with various “city officials.” But under repeated questions, she couldn’t name anyone.

“You have to name some names. I don’t know you,” said Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, adding that Haven 4 Hope’s claims “make people in this room think I’m in favor of a project I know nothing about.”

Allen told CL that she and Haven 4 Hope co-founder Sandra Treadway are motivated by personal experience with single-motherhood and homelessness. When asked by CL about Fulton County’s recent closures of shelters, including one serving women and children, Allen said she had not heard of that.

Allen intended to get locals excited about getting her organization started. But residents were not happy that she is not local herself.

“Do it in Gwinnett!” shouted one man.

“Take ’em to Alpharetta!” yelled a woman.

“You seem well-meaning, but this is not the time and place” for such a facility, Winslow said to huge applause.

In a long conversation with Allen after the meeting, residents said the plan's reception might have been different if Allen still lived in the area and had an transparent and credible plan. But they also indicated a feeling that the area is viewed as a poor enclave rather than a burgeoning success story of homeowner investment.

As one man put it to Allen, “People always believe they can bring their mess to the West End.”

In recent years, the historic neighborhood that was hit hard during the housing downturn, and particularly struck by mortgage fraud, has begun to stabilize. Business leaders have worked to form an improvement district aimed at boosting its commercial district located near a MARTA rail station. The Atlanta Beltline's Westside Trail will touch the community's southern edge.

Former West End Neighborhood Development, Inc. president Carl Nes told CL that the proposal touches a nerve because of similar, actual plans in recent years, such as a pending home-building effort by Habitat for Humanity. In a follow-up letter to NPU-T, Nes criticized it for even considering “a day-dreamer suburbanite wanting to save humanity at the cost of West End resurgence.” He added: “What unmitigated stereotypical myopia. It is an attack on all of us working to bootstrap the neighborhood.”

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