A second location for Masada House's proposed transitional shelter for men recovering from substance abuse problems was shot down by Farmington City Council last week. We're afraid that outcome has more to do with ignorance than a legitimate fear for property values and the safety of neighborhood children.
In January, council members rejected a proposal to locate the program in a home on Schofield Lane. Sixty-three percent of neighbors within a 100-foot radius of the property opposed the requested zoning change that would have allowed the program to move forward. Residents stated their fears that the program would lead to an increase in crime threatening the peace of the neighborhood. They pointed to a nearby church school playground that bordered the property and another church with a school that was less than a half-mile away.
And this week similar objections were voiced about a proposed location on Virden Street in southeast Farmington. Again, more than 20 percent of neighbors within a 100-foot radius opposed the change. Because of that, the requested zoning change and special use permit required 75 percent council approval.
Masada House Program Director Karen Chenault has been fighting a stiff headwind in her efforts to find a location for the transitional shelter.
She has assured neighbors and the council that the residents are screened to ensure they have no violent or sex crime convictions. And she has testimony from neighbors of a similar women's shelter in Farmington who say they have had no problems. Chenault said some resistance could be related to the perception that men are more of a threat.
But she says the men are just as dedicated to repairing their lives when they reach the level of self-awareness required to enter such a program.
Although leadership sometimes requires our politicians to buck the polls, we're not sure that would have been appropriate in this case.
The kind of program proposed by Masada House requires community support. It appears to us that residents assumed the worst about the home's residents and gathered facts that would support their fears. It's too bad they didn't do some research into this specific type of facility. These programs house people who have had success leaving a self-destructive life behind and are in the final stages of rejoining the regular workday world.
When they rejoin that world, they pay taxes and participate in community activities. In many cases, the alternative would be prison where taxpayers foot the bill as the incarcerated sit out life.
These kinds of shelters have the potential to alleviate a significant amount of human suffering, but we believe they also make economic sense. Saying "no" to every attempt to find an appropriate location stacks the odds even further against people in recovery.
We think the Planning and Zoning Commission had it right when it reported that the home would "not be any more detrimental to the health, welfare and safety than any of the other residences in the neighborhood."
It's too bad that neighbors are so quick to judge. We hope it's not necessary, but if members of their families find themselves in need of the services provided by such a transitional home, we hope there is a neighborhood in Farmington that has a better — and more compassionate — understanding of the human condition.