Empire Editorial: Compromise needed for Haven House

Plans for a new group home for women released from prison was put on hold recently because of a zoning conflict.

Haven House Juneau, a faith-based nonprofit established in 2010, submitted a request to rezone a six-bedroom home located on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley from single family to transitional group home. City planning staff, however, say Haven House’s business plan doesn’t mesh with the city’s current ordinance related to group homes. Instead, they say it constitutes a halfway house, and therefore must be located in either a commercial, mixed use or rural reserve zone.

The city defines a group home as one that provides certain services, such as “extended healthcare, rehabilitation or recovery from any physical, mental or emotional disability.” Since Haven House doesn’t provide those services, according to the city, it fits in the halfway house category. Haven House’s nine-member board of directors say that designation doesn’t fit either.

Those selected to live at the six-bedroom home, which would house up to nine women in all, have paid their debt to society, said board president June Degnan. None would be forced to wear ankle monitors or required to check in with probation officers. They would be free to live wherever they want and to do whatever they want as free citizens, but Haven House would serve as a place that keeps them from falling back into the same routine and being surrounded by the same people that led them down the wrong path in the first place.

Halfway houses more often than not are used by individuals who are continuing to serve out prison sentences. In lieu of jail time, some are allowed to reside in monitored, secured environments under supervision. According to the city ordinance, halfway house residents “may be serving a sentence for a criminal act.” Haven House doesn’t necessarily fit the description of a halfway house either.

Residents near where Haven House would be located are concerned about the impact it would have on the neighborhood. Many are supportive of its cause, but not its location. What we must remember, however, is that those who would benefit from Haven House will still be living in our community, our neighborhoods and possibly on the same street as some of us. But they wouldn’t have the supervision or a support network to ensure they stay on the right track.

Haven House is stuck in a murky area between the two designations. It doesn’t fit with the city’s definition of a group home, nor is it a halfway house. Somewhere their must be room for a compromise between the Haven House board and the city; a compromise that would allow Haven House to serve its mission.

My turn: Haven House a safe home, not a halfway house
Haven House runs into zoning conflict

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