HAMILTON: Highland Community Up in Arms Against Low-Income Mental Facility

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By: Ken Hamilton

DePaul Properties, Incorporated’s website touted that they DePaul Properties, Inc. creates and operates attractive, affordable housing solutions in urban, suburban and rural settings within environments that promote respectful community relationships. And they do; however, they certainly didn’t “promote respectful community relationships” in their recent meeting held for the Highland Avenue neighborhood residents that attended their most recent meeting at the St. John’s AME Church. It was clear that the election season now had yet another issue for which incumbents and candidates would have to address. That question is, “When is enough low-income housing enough?”

Despite protestations of the increase of low-income housing by Toronto’s Norstar Development Corporation/Niagara Falls Housing Authority’s uncompleted Center Court II, LLC project, and Rochester’s DePaul Properties coming in with another scheme to add to it and Norstar’s Cornerstone Village project, residents were baffled by some of the speakers from DePaul who cited that they lost the opportunity to have done the project on property owned by NFR. Personally, I doubt if any serious dialogue had taken place at the site that that they cited, as it is clear to me that NFR wouldn’t have been holding out and maintaining property to roll over into a mental health facility.   

 That’s right, a mental health facility is what it would substantially have been there, and on Highland. But somehow, solace was to be taken by Highland residents in that they would not allow sexual predators to live in the facility, and that the reason why the Highland community was chosen as an alternative site was because Community Mission’s distressed clients wanted to live in communities that were most like themselves.

 It was bad enough that someone would cite such a reason as “like themselves” for building on Highland; and yes, race did come up.  But it didn’t appear to sink into the audience when it should have when the speaker first prefaced it by saying that their client, Community Missions having housing in both North Tonawanda, which is 95% white and less than 2% black, and in Niagara Falls where the population is 70% white and a whopping 22% black. Shamefully, this many years after the Civil Rights Act, was DePaul trying to intimate that after the polling of Community Mission’s client base, white people with mental issues preferred to live in North Tonawanda and blacks with mental issues wanted to live on Highland? I certainly hope not.

 Let me say that the folks at both DePaul and Community Missions have a very, very difficult job to do; and they do it to the best of their abilities. That’s their job, and not only does my heart goes out to them, I support those good people the best that I can. But the city has over the years indeed not only put all of the elements in place to attract and keep the poverty industry going, but has also continued to add attractions for it.

Highland Avenue, Census Tract 202 – population roughly 2,600 people, has 2 medical arts building – Mount Saint Mary Hospital’s and Community Health Clinic of Niagara (CHCN) which was supposed to have replaced the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center’s Hamilton B. Mizer Clinic in the former 10th Street School Building on the campus. But what was tantamount to an eminent domain lawsuit forced a sunset clause on the funding, forcing them to site elsewhere. Because the former Center Avenue School site was available, the city made it possible for them to quickly move there.  These were obviously strikes, not balls, as in 1942 the original projected-segregated Center Court project was cited on Center Avenue for the same reason – it was easier, as was the 2nd mistake HOPE-VI unnecessary replacement for the 1st mistake, and the 3rd in a row CHCN building. But it seems that while Highland has been striking out, DePaul is looking at the area as a grand slam. The recent meeting seemingly got them slammed.

In the subject of the Community Mission residents apparently directing DePaul, St. John’s AME Church administrative assistant Denise Easterling chimed in and said, “And so, I really hear your concerns for your residents; but I have the same concerns for the people that live here already. So, I need clarification; your residents and clients already have housing?”

The response was that they have housing in the community in which they are not really happy with. Easterling goes on to say that it sounds like it’s a matter of convenience for some people [those who are serviced] and inconvenience for others [who are not serviced.]  Her concerns were for the people that live in Highland already.

Easterling went on to mention the need for transportation services for those who already lived there, inferring the increased density in the new Center Court project.  While I maintain that the Center Court project should likely have been placed at Packard Court, where transportation and other services have long been readily available, including the ability for parents to walk to their parent-teacher conferences for elementary school students at Niagara Street Schools [which itself was proposed for between Packard Court and the new high school], Gaskill Middle School and for Niagara Falls High School itself. But, again, it would seem that the expanding circle of Niagara’s poverty is fueled by an accumulation of poverty services that, including the Gospel Rescue Mission – which I begrudgedly support — only create more need rather than solutions.

I applaud community members for waking up and finally taking a stand against an increase of poverty. Further analyses will be forthcoming on what they want their neighborhood to be; and on if Niagara Falls wants to be a state of the art, water-wonderful tourist city, or merely the state’s poverty pool.


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