Just say yes
Sacramento needs more treatment facilities, but most neighborhoods don’t want them
Eleven-year-old girls normally don’t strike fear in to the hearts of adult men and women. But 11-year-old formerly homeless and drug-addicted girls—that’s another story. At least in the case of George Lewis, Marilyn and Edward Greiner, and their son, Mark Greiner.
They, and many of their neighbors, contend that a residential drug treatment home for teens scheduled to be placed across the street from the Greiner’s residence on East Country Club Lane is detrimental to the health and safety of the neighborhood and its residents.
These types of conflicts are only expected to increase in coming months as Sacramento County struggles to implement the mandates of voter-approved Proposition 36, which will place first- and second-time non-violent drug offenders in community-based treatment, rather than jails and prisons.
In the next few months, county officials must set standards for the siting of treatment facilities and submit their plan to the state—but they seem to have their work cut out for them in an era when the “not in my backyard” sentiment still runs high. Indeed, officials say that effectively dealing with NIMBY-ism will likely be one of the tougher tasks associated with Prop. 36.
East Country Club Lane is a quiet, suburban street lined with 60-foot redwoods and magnolia trees. Early evenings find young parents pushing strollers, retirees walking their dogs and middle-school children riding their bikes.
It’s a neighborhood marked by large lots; where professional gardeners tend to the majority of the $200,000 to $300,000 homes. It’s a street where neighbors notify each other if they’re going out of town.
It is on this street, in this upper-middle-class neighborhood, that the Sisters of Social Service, who operate the WIND Youth Center in Midtown Sacramento, propose to site a live-in recovery home for girls.
Sponsored by the Sacramento Department of Human Assistance, the 24-month transitional living program will provide a highly-structured environment that incorporates onsite schooling, a mandatory substance abuse recovery program, basic life skills and non-violent conflict resolution training for eight girls, ages 11-17, whose numbers will increase to 12 after the first year.
Neighbors such as George Lewis, a former investigator for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, envision “out-of-control” girls roaming their neighborhood, wreaking havoc on neighboring properties, spurring an increase in crime and posing a physical threat to elderly residents.
The fact that the girls accepted into the pilot program will have been homeless for a minimum of six months leads Lewis and others to infer that the girls have “rejected every offer of help our society has offered,” making them “social outcasts.”
Marilyn Greiner, 75, contends that her first concern is for the very young children already in her neighborhood, implying that the WIND home’s residents could do them harm if left unsupervised. She further contends that the surrounding neighborhoods and fence lines, lined as they are with trees and shrubbery, provide excellent hiding places for wayward teens.
“I’m 75,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to go up against a street-smart kid. I wouldn’t stand a chance.”
The fact that the program demands a clean and sober living environment with a mandatory drug recovery component does little to assuage their alleged fears.
Despite mentioning several times their concerns about possibly decreasing property values, some neighbors contend they would not have the same reaction if an “established” agency—such as the Salvation Army—wanted to site in their neighborhood.
Others like Lewis claim they’d welcome a battered women’s safe house or a branch of the Sacramento Children’s Receiving Home. Lewis contends those uses would be welcome because of the accompanying visits from law enforcement.
Neighbors also raise objections to the amount of public money being spent on the program. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency loaned Mercy Housing of California $484,000 to purchase the property and WIND was given a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build and initially maintain the home.
They also contend that WIND has no experience running such a facility—despite the fact that its director, Sister Mary Anne Bonpane, has more than 30 years experience running group homes for emotionally disturbed youth in Sacramento, in addition to working with homeless teens at WIND’s drop-in youth center.
But strip away all the ancillary objections and neighbors will admit they simply do not want such a home in their neighborhood.
“It’s simply not appropriate,” Mark Greiner insists, adding that he doesn’t feel WIND has done enough to address his parents’ concerns or win their confidence.
WIND officials, however, point to four community meetings hosted by the agency since last June, a redesign of the facility so it can be re-sold as a single-family dwelling if the program fails and the agency’s promise to install a specific type of fencing around the property as requested by neighbors.
Sister Mary Anne Bonpane has heard it all before: The talk of increased crime and vandalism; the charges that these are “throw-away” kids; and the fear that neighbors will be impacted by decreased property values.
She doesn’t buy it.
“I think their fears are a little displaced,” she says. “They’re fearful and angry about teen-agers in general; about drugs, in general. They’re fearful of their neighborhood changing and they’re projecting it onto us. One person told us about a bike being stolen off someone’s back porch—but we haven’t even moved in yet.”
Bonpane contends the East Country Club Lane neighborhood—situated as it is near Watt Avenue—is already changing, as are the rest of the neighborhoods in Sacramento. Gone are the days when residents could leave their doors unlocked—whether a group home is located in their neighborhood or not. She notes that although no group home is located in her neighborhood, her car has been stolen once and its tires stolen another time.
“There are things to be angry about out there,” Bonpane says, “but targeting social services is irrational.
WIND’s application to HUD spells out its staffing ratio: When the teens are awake there will be no less than three staff members supervising them, in addition to drug and alcohol counselors, teachers and social workers. When sleeping, there will be two staff members on site, one asleep and one awake.
But people who are familiar with the NIMBY mindset are quick to note that perception, rather than fact, typically drives the sentiment.
For example, Toni Moore, the county’s drug and alcohol program administrator and coordinator of Sacramento’s Prop. 36-related programs, says that in her four years as director, she hasn’t received one call complaining about any one of the county’s 30 treatment providers.
But neighbors regularly become concerned, even enraged, when a social service provider first attempts to move into a neighborhood.
George Bramson, who serves on various neighborhood boards and associations, experienced this first-hand when he first agreed to lease out a home he owned near Southside Park to TLCS (Transitional Living and Community Support) for use in its Project Redirection program—a county-run, live-in facility for the homeless mentally ill.
Bramson contends that early notification and education are key in toning down or eliminating many of the typical concerns residents voice about proposed social service projects, but concedes that NIMBY-ism isn’t likely to go away.
“The county, I think, has to do a better job of making projects do early notification,” he says, “and I think they’ve been reluctant to do that all the time because of the resistance they know they’re going to meet with.”Big demand
Currently serving 5,000 treatment clients per year, Sacramento County expects to see an influx of about 3,800 new addicts needing treatment due to Prop. 36. The county alcohol and drug bureau’s $20 million annual budget will be augmented by $4.2 million per year in Prop. 36 monies, according to Moore.
Bramson is in favor of a “Good Neighbor Policy” currently in draft form at the county level, saying he thinks such a policy should apply to all businesses in the county, not just social services.
Such a policy, however, is already voluntarily agreed to by many social services—and WIND’s proposed teen recovery home is no exception. As evidenced by previous charges, however, the document has done little to quell tensions in the neighborhood.
As to the charge that anyone at WIND will get rich off the roughly $3,500 per month per girl the agency is expected to receive from the state, Bonpane says, “That’s absurd. That’s like $5 per hour for food, shelter, treatment, schooling and counseling, 24-hours per day. You can’t run a successful drug treatment [home] on that. We’ll have to raise money for this, in addition to what [the state] gives us.”
Looking toward the implementation of Prop. 36, Moore says she hopes to keep NIMBY-ism to a minimum by giving “heavy weight” to proposals by providers who have a proven track record working not only with substance abusers, but also with neighborhoods and businesses.
The example of the WIND home may suggest that Moore has a bigger fight on her hands.