By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Joshua Development Corp. explains plans for womens transitional facility at Potter's House


August 30, 2011

A proposal for a 17-bed transitional housing facility for women in the Educational Multi-Purpose Center (EMC) in Mount Oliver drew about 35 attendees on Aug. 23.

The plan is awaiting word on a state grant submission and from the city Law Department on zoning requirements.

The proposed facility, to be located in the former convent rooms in the EMC at 430 Cathedral Ave., would be operated by the Joshua Development Corporation (JDC). The JDC is a development corporation out of the Potter's House Ministries, which owns the building.

The presentation was by Bishop Otis L. Carswell, JDC president; Corey Lakins, JDC board chair; and Nikki Williams, JDC board director.

The plan is to provide up to 17 furnished quarters for women only, ages 21 and up, and no children. All applicants will be thoroughly screened. They explained because nuns once lived at the site, there are already bedroom structures in place.

There will be zero tolerance for alcohol, drugs, or weapons.

Women who are "dangerous or considered a menace to society" will not be permitted, said Ms. Lakins.

"We won't start up a program adverse to the fabric of the community," she said.

There will be 24-hour security, interior and exterior cameras, and a building manager. Renovations include painting, carpeting, plumbing, lighting and new locks on doors.

"Our desire is to see the Hilltop flourish. If we can clean up spiritually, then it can turn around," said Bishop Carswell.

As it is transitional housing, the women will be expected to leave the grounds for work or school. No visitors or loitering will be permitted. The program will be for two years, after which the "graduates" are expected to do well, and not return.

If they get a job, and feel they have met their goals, they may leave earlier than two years. If they get a job, they must pay a stipend.

Funding will come from the state, and some private donations.

"There are so many faces on homelessness," said the bishop, noting a person can have a Ph.D. and still be homeless.

The JDC operates a similar transitional housing program in the Braddock area called Ruth House.

Ms. Lakins said the program will be beneficial not only for the enrollees, but for taxpayers as well: Allegheny County taxpayers spend $439,000 annually for housing for the homeless; and $61 million annually for the homeless who are in need of mental health services.

An attendee commented that a recent barbeque on the site was very noisy and disturbing. There was free food and rides.

The bishop apologized for the disturbance. "The intent was not to disturb. It was to fellowship," he said.

Suzanne Photos, of the Mount Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch, said she would like to see something to keep youngsters off the streets, like Girls and Boys clubs.

Bishop Carswell said the site already offers youth programs on the bottom floor, such as a youth church, music lessons, Sunday services, dance and recitals, Bible studies, and more. His hope is to expand the offerings.

Besides enhancing activities for children, the bishop said the long-range plan is the main floor of the EMC as a "one-stop shop" for all ages, with other social service agencies housed in the building.

In his plan, the one-stop shop would offer an after-school program, library, dental clinic, GED classes, HIV testing and counseling, financial literacy assistance, and more.

The transitional housing enrollees could come down to the one-stop shop floor and get what they need, said the bishop.

"We must work with the needs on the Hilltop. We must take chances or the Hilltop will die," said attendee Father Vic Cianca of St. Maria Magdalena Church.

Attendee city Councilman Bruce Kraus noted while residents are sometimes leary of new enterprises in a neighborhood, they often work out well. As an example, he cited the former dialysis center in Arlington becoming an adult probation center, in which he opened a satellite office.

"It has proven to be a huge positive in the neighborhood," he said.

Questioned if zoning is approved, will the facility change to drug rehabilitation, the bishop said that is not part of the JDC's vision.

To an attendee's question to the bishop as to whether he would have a problem with this facility in his backyard, he said, "No. I am my brother's keeper."

The next public update on the proposed transitional housing project will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22 at the Mount Oliver City/St. Clair Block Watch, in the EMC, 430 Cathedral Ave.


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