A neigh­bor­hood di­vided

Sub­di­vi­sion res­i­dents con­cerned over new group home

The Covington News - - Front page - By Rachel Oswald

What was once a tran­quil neigh­bor­hood has be­come em­broiled in a con­tro­versy over the re­cent es­tab­lish­ment of a group home in the sub­di­vi­sion.

Teenage male res­i­dents in the care of the De­part­ment of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice and for­merly liv­ing at the Oa­sis Care Cen­ter on Field­stone Court in Dis­trict 3 had re­port­edly been ha­rass­ing their neigh­bors for some time. Among the re­ported ha­rass­ments are the van­dal­iza­tion, rob­bery and par­tial burn­ing of a home ad­ja­cent to the Oa­sis home, caus­ing ap­prox­i­mately $100,000 in dam­age.

The group home is now closed as the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Hu­man Re­sources’ Of­fice of Reg­u­la­tory Ser­vices failed to re­new the Oa­sis Care Cen­ter’s li­cense to op­er­ate the home.

“T here are all kinds of hor­ri­ble things that have hap­pened to the neigh­bors. Th­ese res­i­dents are not be­ing su­per­vised. It’s ob­vi­ous from the neigh­bors that the peo­ple who own the home aren’t do­ing what the reg­u­la­tions re­quire them to do.”

“ORS has in­formed Oa­sis that it will not be re­new­ing its li­cense due to sev­eral vi­o­la­tions,” said Bev­erly Jones, a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Di­vi­sion of Fam­ily and Chil­dren Ser­vices. “I was told it has a long his­tory of non-com­pli­ance.”

A month ago mem­bers of the Field­stone Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion con­tacted their dis­trict com­mis­sioner, Ester Flem­ing, with their con­cerns about the group home. At a wellat­tended com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing in

— James Grif­fin At­tor­ney for New­ton County

late Jan­uary, Field­stone res­i­dents met with Flem­ing and Sen. John Douglas who told mem­bers that they would look into the sit­u­a­tion.

Ear­lier this week the County At­tor­ney’s Of­fice dis­patched a let­ter to DHR — which has over­sight over all group homes in the state— ask­ing them to re­voke the group home’s li­cense.

The let­ter was sent as a pre­cur­sory ac­tion to fil­ing a law­suit against the own­ers of the group home in the event no other res­o­lu­tion could be reached.

DHR is be­lieved to have re­voked the home’s li­cense prior to re­ceiv­ing the let­ter as the re­sult of sev­eral vi­o­la­tions found on the part of the home. In the five in­spec­tions the home has had since open­ing, it has been found in vi­o­la­tion of DHR reg­u­la­tions four times.

In the let­ter from the county to DHR, res­i­dents of the group home are ac­cused of stalk­ing their el­derly neigh­bors, threat­en­ing them with phys­i­cal harm and van­dal­iz­ing ve­hi­cles in the neigh­bor­hood.

“There are all kinds of hor­ri­ble things that have hap­pened to the neigh­bors,” said James Grif­fin, an at­tor­ney with County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig’s of­fice who is hand­ing the case on be­half of the BOC. “ Th­ese res­i­dents are not be­ing su­per­vised. It’s ob­vi­ous from the neigh­bors that the peo­ple who own the home aren’t do­ing what the reg­u­la­tions re­quire them to do.”

Since the home be­gan to house DJJ youth in Oc­to­ber 2007, the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice has re­ceived nearly 20 calls from the home in­clud­ing, three for run­away ju­ve­niles, four for miss­ing per­sons, four ju­ve­nile prob­lems and two bur­glary alarms.

Ac­cu­sa­tions on both sides

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon the home ap­peared empty. A for­mer Oa­sis staff mem­ber, Jonathan Balt­hazar, said the res­i­dents had been moved out of the home.

Oa­sis Care Cen­ter Owner Ellen Banks said she was in talks with Oa­sis’ Board of Direc­tors as to what to do next. Banks said plans to open other Oa­sis Care Cen­ter homes have come to a halt.

“We are se­ri­ously look­ing at if we are go­ing to approach this in an­other state or if we are go­ing to look at a hear­ing or an ap­peal,” Banks said. “As it stands now there is no ac­tiv­ity, as far as DJJ [youth] liv­ing in the home. I may be forced to sell it.”

Banks de­nied the ac­cusa- tion that a res­i­dent liv­ing at the home had ex­posed him­self to the seven-year-old child of Lau­rah Hensley, whose par­ents live next door to the group home. Banks also de­nied that res­i­dents of the group home had van­dal­ized and burned the home of Hensley’s par­ents. Banks said those in­ci­dents were still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the au­thor­i­ties.

Hensley has be­come par­tic­u­larly ac­tive in or­ga­niz­ing res­i­dents of the Field­stone sub­di­vi­sion to take their protests to the county as a re­sult of the re­ported in­ci­dents.

Banks also de­nied ac­cu­sa­tions made by the county that her staff was in­com­pe­tent in keep­ing track of the group home res­i­dents. Banks said Oa­sis had em­ployed a staff of five — one di­rec­tor, two Hu­man Ser­vice Pro­fes­sion­als and three house par­ents to look af­ter the res­i­dents.

Banks said the boys were su­per­vised 24 hours a day. Banks said the num­ber of youth liv­ing at the home never ex­ceeded four. Banks went on to ac­cuse Field­stone res­i­dents of racism to­wards her and the res­i­dents of the group home.

Banks is black as are the DJJ youth who were liv­ing at the home. The ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents in the Field­stone sub­di­vi­sion are white she said.

“I be­came aware that the neigh­bors were mak­ing racial slurs to­wards those chil­dren and ac­cus­ing them of com­mit­ting crimes,” Banks said. “Those crimes were in­ves­ti­gated, and we have yet to re­ceive any fur­ther no­tice of ac­tion. Th­ese are all al­le­ga­tions, and I be­lieve they are racially mo­ti­vated.”

While she had not wit­nessed any of the racial slurs her­self, Banks said she had spo­ken with mem­bers of her staff who had wit­nessed the re­ported slurs yelled at the res­i­dents.

Banks said she has also spo­ken with sev­eral other black res­i­dents liv­ing in the sub­di­vi­sion who, she said, re­ported feel­ing that there was a de­gree of racism in the neigh­bor­hood.

Af­ter it be­came known that she would be open­ing a group home, Banks said she reached out to res­i­dents in the sub­di­vi­sion with the in­tent of find­ing men­tors for the DJJ youth. Banks said she was only con­tacted by one neigh­bor who was in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a sup­porter of Oa­sis.

“We can­not claim to have run a per­fect pro­gram,” Banks said. “We were a new provider; this was [in] the em­bry­onic state and you have to weed out the wrin­kles but with­out any com­mu­nity sup­port you’re go­ing to have your chal­lenges.”

Banks also claimed that the group home had been on the re­ceiv­ing end of van­dal­ism as well. Banks said a $1,500 lawn­mower had been stolen from the home. Banks said she did not be­lieve the van­dal­iza­tion or the theft had been com­mit­ted by any of her res­i­dents as they were all ac­counted for at the time the in­ci­dents oc­curred.

“They have to be fair and hon­est with the fact that we never pressed charges dur­ing the same time,” Banks said.

When The News first re­ported on group home ac­tiv­ity in New­ton County in June 2007, there were 27 state li­censed group homes in New­ton County.

Cur­rently there are only 22 group homes in the county ac­cord­ing to DHR records.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Neigh­bor­hood in tur­moil: A dump­ster is full of house­hold items re­moved from a home that was al­legedly van­dal­ized and par­tially burned by res­i­dents liv­ing next door at the Oa­sis Care Cen­ter group home on Field­stone Court.

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