East Liberty: Neighbors want say in new outreach housing program | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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East Liberty: Neighbors want say in new outreach housing program

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A first-of-its-kind outreach program could soon move homeless fathers and their children off the streets and into East Liberty apartments, but first, local residents want a hand in deciding exactly how that will be done.

Community-developer East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI) and East End Cooperative Ministry (EECM) are teaming up to establish "Dad's House," which will provide affordable housing to local homeless fathers who are suffering from mental illness or are recovering from substance abuse.

However, their efforts to transform 10 housing units into permanent homes for roughly 10 men and 17 children will hinge on the community's acceptance or rejection of the program.

"East Liberty has the opportunity to say 'yes' or 'no,'" ELDI planning coordinator Kendall Pelling told roughly a dozen community members at an Oct. 21 meeting inside a local resident's home. "[ELDI] has to honor that say."

Pelling's words spelled relief for residents, some of whom were worried that the project would move forward without their input. In fact, the morning of the Oct. 21 meeting, residents sent a two-page letter to ELDI, outlining their concerns about the Dad's House proposal. The letter, which was signed by a dozen residents of Mellon Street – located only a couple of blocks away from the program's proposed housing sites on North St. Clair Street and East Liberty Boulevard – expresses concerns that the community hasn't been included in helping ELDI craft plans for ownership and management of the housing units.

"We are not universally opposed to the idea of this project," the letter reads, "But we believe that [ELDI] and [EECM] have not resolved our concerns ...

"We have no business plan, or management documents," it continues. "The project continues to move ahead regardless of our objections."

According to the letter, the community wants to discuss the structure of a Dad's House oversight board of directors. The letter requests that at least one-quarter of the board seats be filled by residents of each of the following streets: Mellon Street, North St. Clair Street and North Euclid Avenue. In addition, residents "want tenant-selection criteria that establishes firm criteria that defines the tenant population in clear and thorough terms."

At the Oct. 21 meeting, Mellon Street resident Alexi Morrissey told Pelling, "You haven't done a good job at selling [the Dad's House project]. ... There are so many questions."

But after hearing Pelling announce that the project is being put "on hold" to allow for a community input, review and approval process, "It sounds like [ELDI] is getting it together," Morrissey said following the meeting. "I feel confident that the community's concerns are being addressed."

In the next few months, Pelling says, residents, ELDI and EECM will hold a series of meetings to discuss details of the program. And once a business plan is created, residents can either give the project a thumbs-up or -down.

Despite the fact that Dad's House would be the first of its kind here in Pittsburgh, EECM representatives say the community shouldn't worry about how the program will be run.

"All of [EECM's] programs are solid," says Paul DeWalt, EECM's director of Hunger and Homeless Programs. "We don't want to run junk."

EECM manages a handful of homeless-outreach programs in the city, including "Safe Haven," which in the last six years has taken more than a dozen chronically homeless folks with mental-health problems off the streets and successfully placed them into apartments, where they live independently.

According to DeWalt, Dad's House will be similar to Safe Haven, except that the candidates for the program will have kids and they will have already been connected to social services before entering their new homes. DeWalt says he expects 70 percent of the men to come from transitional housing, while 30 percent will come from emergency homeless shelters.

As for concerns about what kind of homeless men might be accepted by the program, DeWalt says there's no need to worry. That's because homeless men with records of domestic violence or sex offenses won't be eligible for Dad's House. Since the men must have legal custody of their kids in order to be considered for the home, they will have already undergone a series of screenings before being reviewed by EECM. "It's a self-regulating program," says DeWalt.

Once the men move into Dad's House, DeWalt says they will be monitored by EECM staffers, making sure they receive medical treatment and Social Security Income. And ultimately, he says, "as [Dad's House resident's] skill sets develop, we assume that they will be moving toward work."

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