Agency withdraws bid for distressed property after Como neighborhood rejects the agency’s proposal
FORT WORTH — Samaritan House has withdrawn its bid to purchase property in the Como neighborhood in West Fort Worth for a new facility that would house low-income people, including those with HIV.
The decision came after residents of the neighborhood objected to the agency’s proposal and voted against bringing the facility to the area. Como residents voted 365-41 against Samaritan House’s plan during a meeting of the Como Neighborhood Advisory Council.
The issue was to come before the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday, but Samaritan House Executive Director Steve Dutton said his agency had the item removed and will look for another location.
"It’s taking a little bit of time to accept," Dutton said of the rejection by the neighborhood.
Dutton said the Como neighborhood was an ideal site because it offered a stable community that was near medical facilities, good schools, community resources and transportation. But, he said, the agency will find another location in a different neighborhood and they will move forward with the project.
Other neighborhoods have contacted him already to talk about bringing the new housing to their areas, but no specific proposals are pending, Dutton said.
Once a property is found, he said, it would take about three years to secure the federal grants and for construction to be completed.
The new complex would have replaced Motel Vickery, a dilapidated 1940s-era cinder-block motel on Vickery Street facing railroad tracks that divide the neighborhood from the Trinity River.
Last year, the motel was on a list of properties that the city of Fort Worth threatened to close that were filthy and dilapidated. City officials said drug paraphernalia was found on the site, and that it was a breeding ground for crime.
That property sits on two acres, but Samaritan House had proposed buying an additional acre for a $15 million development that would house 150â€“200 people.
The new construction would incorporate solar panels and other green technology to keep utility costs as low as possible for residents, Dutton said. Trees and landscaping would be integrated into the design as in the current facilities on Hemphill Street.
Opponents told the Fort Worth Star Telegram that the neighborhood had its own issues and didn’t need additional problems brought into the area. They preferred development that would bring jobs to the neighborhood.
As part of its mission, Samaritan House has always put people to work, Dutton said, adding that the agency has always been a good neighbor.
Last year, the agency had more than 1,000 volunteers and most came from the immediate neighborhood. Dutton said that the community wouldn’t step up to help a bad neighbor.
Samaritan House has provided housing for homeless, low-income people with HIV since 1993. In 2001, the agency relocated to its current location, operating as a transitional care facility.
The Villages at Samaritan House was built in 2006. That complex includes one- two- and three-bedroom apartments for low-income people, not all with HIV.
When Samaritan House first opened, the facility operated mostly as a hospice dealing with end-of-life care.
"Now we have a literacy program," Dutton said. "People are going to college. We’re rebuilding hope. This is a happy place to be. People are dreaming and building for the future."
Samaritan House currently serves 370 residents in Samaritan House, The Villages at Samaritan House and an off-site program that has landlords around the city housing about 25 families living independently in the community.
The new facility would have housed an additional 250 people.
In addition to construction jobs that Samaritan House would have added to the Como neighborhood, permanent jobs for caseworkers and other staff would have been added, Dutton said.
He said that the planned project is not a place to warehouse the homeless. Instead, the agency incorporates job training and employment skills classes into its program.
"We provide a means by which people can go back to work," Dutton said.
Not only do they encourage their residents to enroll in job training programs, they have collaborated with for-profit business to generate jobs.
Dutton said 17 current residents work at Z CafÃ© at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
Carlo Capua is the general manager of Z CafÃ©. His mother is the chef.
He said that after his mother was laid off from her job and he returned from teaching abroad, they started a home-based catering company. They needed a commercial kitchen and worked out a barter agreement with Samaritan House.
"The arts center gave space to Samaritan House," Capua said.
The non-profit agency didn’t know what to do with it, so they called Capua who opened Z CafÃ©.
"We hire residents from Samaritan House," he said. "Some are HIV-positive. Some are their caretakers."
He said over the past few years they have employed 33 residents and have expanded their catering business as well. The Super Bowl committee recently named them as an approved caterer.
"We’ve catered for more than 100 non-profits," Capua said. "We donate to all sorts of fundraisers."
Dutton said that the partnership worked well.
"We seek to do more things like that," Dutton said.
Dutton said that among the 370 residents served by Samaritan House, 75 children are in the program.
"It’s always fun to help families grow and succeed," he said. "It helps keep you focused on the future.
That focus is reflected in his motto: "Rescue, nurture, launch."
Samaritan House officials insists that its residents are compliant with their drug regimens. They provide transportation to medical appointments and work with AIDS Outreach Center to provide dental care.
A full range of psychological services is offered to residents; nutritionists on site see that special dietary needs of residents are met, and substance abuse and other wellness issues are also addressed, Dutton said.
Once stabilized, residents are offered a full range of opportunities to help them return to work. Workshops in interviewing, computer skills and financial management skills are offered. Opportunities to continue their education are backed with scholarships.
Dutton said that as the economy slumped, the need for affordable housing soared. In addition, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the problem of caring for veterans grows.
"About 20 to 25 percent of our residents are veterans," Dutton said. "Many have HIV. Some are dealing with PTSD."
In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, he said that some return to families that have moved on and split up and they have no support. And in this economy they return with no jobs.
Dutton said that while the new facility is on hold temporarily, they will find a new location.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 11, 2010.
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