COOLIDGE — A potential group home for behavioral health clients sparked heated debate among Carter Ranch residents at a zoning meeting on Jan. 6.
Despite learning earlier that day that the home would not be subject to its approval, the Coolidge Planning and Zoning Commission nevertheless allowed public discussion, during which many criticized the project and the city.
“I’ve seen some success stories, but I’ve seen some crash-and-burn stories too,” resident Samuel Murphy said. “Introducing something like this into the community, where there are so many unknowns, is a concern. … We already have drug dealing, breaking the law, issues that aren’t being attended to. This is just one more thing that is going to affect property values.”
Angela White, who along with her husband, Christopher, are to be co-running Rise Above Behavioral Home, said they’d done extensive planning and research into an appropriate site for their facility, which would be for adults dealing with physical, mental, emotional or social problems.
“We’ve been looking into this for some time now,” Angela White said. “We want to see adults struggling with any mental illness conquer that and get back out there. … We want to have a positive impact, we love the community.”
Because the proposed home is expected to have fewer than six residents at any one time, the operation will be regulated by the state, not the city of Coolidge. Zoning officials spoke with the Whites prior to the meeting to discuss legal matters, during which City Manager Rick Miller said they also assuaged fears about the professional nature of the project.
“After hearing what I heard this afternoon, if I were a homeowner and I had this next to me I wouldn’t be as concerned,” Miller said. “You shouldn’t know anything different about what is happening in this home than in your home or anybody else’s.”
Miller also said that in many cases, homes in that neighborhood could have unsupervised renters abusing drugs in a manner that “is probably worse” than whatever might happen at the group home.
The main objections that residents had over the course of the evening concerned the character of those who would live there, and how that would affect property values in the area.
“We have a fight as homeowners,” said a local resident who did not identify themself. “We have a stake in this that goes beyond who has problems or issues or personal experiences. Most of us have those issues. It is what it is, but we don’t need this in our neighborhood.”
At various points, residents even tried to debate city officials over the language in the zoning code, arguing wording like “single family home” disqualified the group home. Several residents indicated they would take up the matter with their homeowners association or fight the project in court.
Despite several speakers raising concerns about exacerbating drug issues in the area, the Whites were adamant that the home would not be for drug users or drug rehab.
“These are people that want help,” Angela White said. “We’re not bringing in somebody who will try to leave the home. We are here to try and help them get back into society: trade, jobs and education.”
Both of the Whites have behavioral health experience dating back more than a decade. In addition, residents of the home will be under professional, 24-hour supervision, and sexual or violent offenders will not be allowed into the program. Before they are allowed into the program, potential residents will have to go through three separate screenings.
Despite the criticism and protestations from residents, several speakers defended the proposed home as a positive development for the city and cited the Whites’ sincerity and commitment to helping others.
“Over the years I have observed Christopher’s passion for children and adult behavior programs,” said Jasmine Reece. “I heard all night about the problems and all the issues, but what I don’t hear is your willingness and your participation to help rehab these people.”
Reece went on to argue that, from a business standpoint, there was no difference between what the Whites were doing and landlords in the community who were renting out their home.
“I understand the community concerns,” Christopher White said, “but I feel like their emotions got the best of them instead of hearing us out. I just ask that people be open-minded about this.”
The Whites are both from Coolidge and Christopher is a youth minister at New Life Christian Center. The Whites said they are hopeful, once contractual issues are finalized, that they will be accepting clients within the next few months.
“Chris and Angela are going to do a great job with this group home,” said Ernesto Leon, a minister at New Hope Community Church. “Knowing Chris and Angela, I think they have dotted every ‘i’ and crossed their ‘t’s' with this situation. They are wonderful people and this is still America: You are still allowed to do a small business as long as you are not hurting anybody else and are offering hope for people. That is what they are doing — offering hope.”