Treatment facility approved in split vote

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Residents of the Calumet community and other interested groups came out in force Tuesday at the LaGrange City Council meeting to have their thoughts heard on a group treatment facility on Johnson Street.

The discussion on the proposed Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment, which is designed to help women overcome trauma and learn life skills, went on for well over an hour before the council approved the special use permit in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Jim Thornton and council members Jim Arrington, Mark Mitchell and Tom Gore voting for, and council members LeGree McCamey, Willie Edmondson and Nathan Gaskin voted against. The vote went down district lines with all council members representing district 1 voting for the permit and all against representing district 2. Thornton cast the deciding vote.

While almost everyone in attendance agreed that the facility is needed in the community, the location in Calumet Village and in district 2 was hotly debated. The primary argument against was the fact that all but one treatment center in LaGrange is located in district 2. The Coleman Center, which is under Twin Cedars, is in district 1.

“Even though I approve and love this idea of these women getting help — I was a nurse for over 20 something years, and I’ve had different calls from attorneys. I’ve had calls from different board members,” Edmondson said. “I’ve had calls from other pastors. One had to remind me that I was a pastor, and I have a caring heart. I had to tell him that I have a caring heart, but I was also elected by these people in district 2, and the people that are directly involved in this — people that have talked to me — they oppose this.”

Several residents of the area stepped forward to ask that the location be denied the same way that the Alford Street location, which is also in district 2 was denied. However, representatives from several community groups also spoke in favor of the treatment center, and representatives from the center spoke to the importance of allowing the Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment to open its doors in LaGrange.

“What we don’t have anywhere — and it is groundbreaking what we would be able to do — is a place to heal trauma,” said Dr. Kelly Veal, a local psychiatrist and LaGrange College professor who specializes in trauma. “We are not a substance abuse facility.”

Veal said that she had heard community support during a meeting on Saturday in the community.

McCamey also disagreed with the center being located in district 2 and questioned the decision to grandfather the building’s site distance from Twin Cedars into the ordinance. The building approved was used as a treatment facility for teen mothers until last year and was already in use for that purpose when the new ordinance was created.

“I was in the committee meeting this morning, and it really disturbed me that we crafted an ordinance in 2011, and I asked about the site distance,” McCamey said.

“The response was, ‘it has never been a problem. It has never been in that situation. They’ve never had one.’ But, what I’m saying is that our ordinance says that they have to be 3,000 feet from each other.”

McCamey also questioned the borders of the area that is currently being defined as Calumet Village due to their expansion over the years.

Gaskin asked for clarification that the City of LaGrange and the LaGrange City Council did not have any part in selecting the location of the facility. Thornton confirmed that Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment — formerly Next Crossroads — had independently selected the location, and the council’s only options were to vote for or against that location. The decision was undoubtedly a difficult one considering what was said on both sides.

“I oppose it being in district 2,” said Zsa Zsa Heard, chief executive officer for the LaGrange Housing Authority. “I now work in a district that needs to be cleaned up. When I say that, that does not mean that I do not want treatment for people. I’m a therapist. I’ve got a brother who is on crack, so for me to stand up and say that I don’t support something like this — I don’t support where it is going to be located.”

Heard suggested putting the treatment facility in a home in district 1.

However, some of those involved with the project argued that moving the facility away from those who need it would be counterproductive.

“These people will come to the place where it is more accessible to them to get the trauma treatment,” said Yvonne Lopez of Ark Refuge Ministries. “… If we bring these programs in this area, it will be available to the people in that community where they have a better opportunity and more accessibility to get the help that they need.”

Heard also worried that the treatment center would fall into disrepair and be abandoned by the group, which encouraged several of those involved in the project to stand up and state their commitment to the neighborhood and its future growth.

“With our community growing and being revitalized, I think we perhaps can make a difference and grow together,” said Pastor Mike Roland, who has been involved in the Calumet revitalization project. “I am on the board, and our purpose is to keep moving forward.”

The possibility of jobs for at least two residents of the Calumet community and office space for community organizers has been discussed, but according to Roland had not been approved as of Tuesday. Dr. Robert Tucker, who also played a major role in revitalization efforts in Calumet, also spoke in support of the center and said that it was something that could help create a better community. Mike Angstadt, who helped spearhead the Twin Cedars Team Building program in the late 1980s, agreed and argued that the building is already an improvement over what was historically at that location.

“In 2003, I had the opportunity to work with President Carter and Habitat for Humanity in district 2,” said Mike Angstadt. “The present site of the facility in which the Calumet Healing and Attachment Center would be located was an abandoned freight warehouse. There were tanks of gasoline that were leaching into the ground.

Homeless people were there. Twin Cedars and Habitat for Humanity worked together to demolish the abandoned freight warehouse to make sure that the tanks were removed and no gas was leaching into the soil and built the Magnolias neighborhood so that people in need could have services.”

The initial council vote was a tie, so Thornton broke the tie in favor of the rezoning.

“I completely share the sentiment that everyone has expressed that this is a great program and a needed program,” Thornton said. “Knowing what we heard — and I’ve talked individually with some of the people involved with the program — I think this is a great need, and is going to serve a lot of women in our community. And so, I applaud this group coming together and trying to do something to improve people’s lives in our community.”

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Jan. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.