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Councilmembers Set To Vote On Old Town Transitional Housing Facility For Combat Veterans

At a city council meeting on Tuesday, counclimembers will make the final decision whether to allow a transitional housing facility for combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to be built in Old Town.

The "Aspire Center," a 40-bed facility would be located in the former Thomas Jefferson Law School building and would treat veterans plagued with PTSD or in need of help recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

According to officials from the Veterans Affairs office, veterans will have access to physical, occupational, and vocational therapy as well have access to psychologists and substance abuse counselors.

The proposal, however, was not well-received by some neighbors, among them administrators from the Old Town Academy, a charter school located across the street from the proposed site.

Co-founder of the academy, Christopher Celentino, expressed his opposition at a number of community meetings. At a meeting of the Uptown Planning Group, Celentino worried about potential violence from unstable veterans. "This is an open facility across the street from children who...if there is a problem will not have an opportunity to defend themselves. It is not the right location, across the street from an elementary school," he said.

Nearly two-hundred parents of children attending the academy have stated that they will likely withdraw their children if the Aspire Center is built, likely forcing the closure of the charter school.

Several local community groups also voted against the project, including the Mission Hills Town Council, Five Points/Middletown Business Association, Old Town Chamber of Commerce, and most recently, the Uptown Planners.

During Tuesday's council hearing, councilmembers will first consider a last ditch effort from Cynthia Morgan, the lawyer for the Old Town Academy, to overturn an environmental exemption. After that item, if the appeal is rejected, councilmembers will vote whether to grant a conditional use permit. If that occurs the Veterans Affairs office will move forward with the proposal.

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At a city council meeting on Tuesday, counclimembers will make the final decision whether to allow a transitional housing facility for combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to be built in Old Town.

The "Aspire Center," a 40-bed facility would be located in the former Thomas Jefferson Law School building and would treat veterans plagued with PTSD or in need of help recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

According to officials from the Veterans Affairs office, veterans will have access to physical, occupational, and vocational therapy as well have access to psychologists and substance abuse counselors.

The proposal, however, was not well-received by some neighbors, among them administrators from the Old Town Academy, a charter school located across the street from the proposed site.

Co-founder of the academy, Christopher Celentino, expressed his opposition at a number of community meetings. At a meeting of the Uptown Planning Group, Celentino worried about potential violence from unstable veterans. "This is an open facility across the street from children who...if there is a problem will not have an opportunity to defend themselves. It is not the right location, across the street from an elementary school," he said.

Nearly two-hundred parents of children attending the academy have stated that they will likely withdraw their children if the Aspire Center is built, likely forcing the closure of the charter school.

Several local community groups also voted against the project, including the Mission Hills Town Council, Five Points/Middletown Business Association, Old Town Chamber of Commerce, and most recently, the Uptown Planners.

During Tuesday's council hearing, councilmembers will first consider a last ditch effort from Cynthia Morgan, the lawyer for the Old Town Academy, to overturn an environmental exemption. After that item, if the appeal is rejected, councilmembers will vote whether to grant a conditional use permit. If that occurs the Veterans Affairs office will move forward with the proposal.

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This will be a real test of the council and whether it will cave in to the alarmist objections of neighborhood NIMBY's, or show some common sense and a little courage. This is just the demonization of veterans by another generation of those who have no appreciation of the sacrifice and price they paid to defend us. I hoped that this time the marginalization and shunning of veterans would not follow, as it did in the 60's and 70's, but it is rearing its ugly head again.

These veterans in a managed facility are no danger to the neighborhood and especially no danger to the school and its students. A bigger danger is posed by the local derelicts, street people, and other strange denizens of that area. Why are they not being driven out? The combat vets need and deserve our compassion and assistance to return to a normal life. If one of them were your brother or sister, uncle or aunt, or even parent, Mr./Ms. NIMBY, would you be objecting to having them nearby or assisting them? I doubt it. Look in the mirror before you object any more, and Council, show some compassion and a little backbone and approve the permit.

June 22, 2012

News flash for you, Visduh. Many of us parents do, in fact, have close family members in combat, or returning from combat and in need of this very program. There is no lack of compassion or appreciation for the would-be patients of the facility. When I look in the mirror I see an educated, compassionate adult who lives with severe mental illness in my immediate family. I know the toll that mental illness takes on its victim and his/her family and friends. I know the volatility. I know the desperation. Do you? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Perhaps it is the reflection of someone too quick to rush to judgement. There is no nimby-ism here - just a very thoughtful group of American families who would love to support this facility in a location at least 1000 feet away from the school.

June 23, 2012
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