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Front Page » March 25, 2008 » Local News » Helper's Golden Rule Mission center of heated debate
Published 2,748 days ago

Helper's Golden Rule Mission center of heated debate

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Sun Advocate reporter

Helper's Golden Rule Mission has been the topic of several community debates over the past weeks.

Emotions ran a little high at last Thursday's Helper City Council meeting as business owners, residents and council members tackled a growing problem in town related to the Golden Rule Mission.

Mark Stuckenschneider, the owner of the Balance Rock Eatery & Pub on Main Street approached the council with a number of disturbances at his business. He told the council he had been having ongoing problems with residents of mission over the past few months.

"I am not trying to start a witch hunt," he said. "But there have been threats against people who work there (Balance Rock)."

Stuckenschnieder said that he and his employees have been trying to deal with the issues on their own, but that things had come to a point where they need help.

While he tried to stay to the generalities, council members and the mayor encouraged him to give the details of the incidents.

"People come in and are very inquisitive about when we close and where we keep the money," he offered as one example.

He stopped to ensure the council and the crowd that when called the police department has been readily responsive but that they hadn't been called about several situations.

Stuckenschneider then delved into two incidents that seemed to be the proverbial straw for the city leaders.

"We had two gentlemen who said they were staying at the mission come and they were both drunk," he said. "We refused them service and one of them threatened to rape my wife on the pool table."

He added that some of the women employees had also been threatened in the same way and that man came in from the shelter inebriated and started yelling at a family eating their dinner, he then urinated on himself and went to another table.

With the graphically disturbing details on the table, Mayor Mike Dalpiaz said definitively that Stuckenschneider and anyone else who felt threatened needed to call the police immediately.

As concerns were added from other business owners, including women who said that they were afraid to go out at night because of the number of shelter residents who tended to congregate on the corners, the discussion took on a broader historical edge.

"We have housed this mission for 30 years and now its someone else's turn," Dalpiaz said frustration rising in his voice.

While the mission has been a part of the town for three decades, it appeared that troubles have escalated as of late. Several conditions are attributed to the rise in incidents and the overall concerns.

The shelter is undergoing a major transition. Long-time director Barbara Daugherty resigned sometime around the first of the year, a board member who was also hands on has been recently hospitalized and the building is currently in the process of being sold to a developer who has promised to make major structural improvements and program changes.

Interim mission director, Joanie Westbrook admits to struggling to keep the facility's residents in check.

"I have caught people doing drugs and most of them have been 86'd out of there," she said.

She said that residents have also been caught bringing alcohol in through the back and that the administration is in the process of putting security locks on the access to prevent those incidents.

However, she did say that people staying at shelter are allowed to come in after they have been drinking.

In the past year the services and oversight of residents appears to have been on the decline. The Alcoholics Anonymous programs are no longer available and case management has suffered from the temporary upheavals, according to Westbrook.

A three-way conference call with representatives from the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development Monday morning shed some light on general policies governing homeless shelters and on the Golden Rule specifically.

The owners of Helper's Balance Rock Eatery have concerns about actions recently taken by some residents of the Golden Rule Mission.

Hearing about the problems at the mission, Kirsten Stewart, communications manager, Lloyd Pendleton, from the Utah Homeless Task Force and Sherie Brinkerhoff, program specialist gathered to address concerns.

Pendleton gave a brief overview of the national and state efforts to address chronic homelessness, which he described as persons who have been without a permanent residence for more than a year or who have experienced the situation four times over a three-year period.

"There are approximately 300,000 chronically homeless throughout the country," he said.

He added that under Gov. Olene Walker a 10-year plan was launched in Utah and that the state has been broken down in regions each with their own plans. Carbon and Emery counties were lumped together and have their own blueprint.

Brinkerhoff touched on the mission's transition from private entity to being state owned in the 1990's. She explained that the structure was in need of many repairs and improvements and the state intervened.

"The mission plays an important role for the homeless," she said.

The trio all agreed that the state's policy on alcohol and drugs was not to allow anyone staying in the shelters to enter under the influence. They also reiterated that the changes the facility is undergoing is at issue.

However, the coming transition under the ownership of Ben Logue from The La Porte Group was pointed out by them and also by a representative from the Association of Governments at the Helper City Council meeting as being a beacon of hope for all concerned.

Logue was in Carbon County in February where he attended a commission meeting hearing on a $2 million block grant he receiving for the renovation of the Golden Rule. The developer assured the commissioners that with his improvements the mission would be a "cleaner and safer" place for all parties concerned.

His plans include turning the rooms into single occupancy, adding security cameras and criminal background checks.

Westbrook said she is in regular contact with Logue and the plans are moving ahead for some of the changes.

"AA is supposed to be coming back next week," she said on Friday. "The men have also asked for Narcotics Anonymous and church services."

There appeared to be a lot of confusion as just what kind of facility the mission would become after the transition and renovation at the March 13 Helper council meeting.

The state trio clarified Monday that the new mission will provide both emergency housing and longer-term traditional housing in Helper.

In addition, the facility will have case managers that will tap into community resources such as Four Corners Community Behavioral Health and Workforce Services.

"The intent is to get people off the streets into housing and help them get back on their feet," said Pendleton.

According to Westbrook the work on the mission is scheduled to begin by April 11 and Logue said at the February commission meeting that the work is expected to be done by the end of the year.

The transitional nature of the mission was a thorn in the side of the Helper City Council as its members discussed what options the city might have in mitigating the problems.

It was decided that the strongest position of power was concerning the business license Logue will have to apply for. Council members and the audience urged looking into exactly what kind of restrictions or conditions might be attached to license.

In addition, the council decided that a sit down with Logue, Westbrook and the community would be appropriate and that the city would move on trying and to schedule a meeting.

The Helper City Council meets the second and fourth Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. in the downtown auditorium for more information on agenda items call Jona Skerl at 472-5391.

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