CONYERS — The Conyers City Council has cleared the way for a transitional home for men with mental health and substance abuse issues to open at 1555 Milstead Road NE following a split vote Wednesday.
Michael Harmon with Robert L. Moore Disciple House applied for a zoning ordinance amendment to allow a conditional use permit for the home in a vacant house. The transitional home will house six residents as well as a house manager.
The issue was first before the council at its Aug. 19 meeting where it generated strong feelings on both sides. Proponents of the home asked that the issue be tabled for 30 days to give them time to try and assuage some of the concerns of opponents. Council members tabled a vote on the application at that meeting. A work session was later held for further discussion.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Bill Carruthers, who battled substance abuse, alcoholism and mental illness for 40 years and is now a national speaker and program manager for the Savannah Counseling Peer Program, spoke on behalf of the transitional home. Carruthers related that he had been in jail more than 18 times.
“In all those times I got out of jail, I always went back to where I was,” Carruthers told the council. “I had an opportunity to go into transitional housing; when I was in transitional housing they connected me with services for my addictions, services for my mental health, services I really needed, and in that connection, I didn’t have to try figure it out myself.”
Rockdale Commissioner Doreen Williams also spoke in favor of the transitional home, saying that a lack of housing is the number one problem for people coming out of jail, which contributes to repeat incarcerations. She pointed to a group of citizens in attendance who had been helped by transitional programs.
“These people are now contributing citizens in our community because they have had an opportunity to live in places like Disciple House and get the training, the accountability that they needed and the skills that they needed to return to a regular contributing citizen’s life,” she said. “I can’t think of any reason why we would not want this in our community.”
Dr. Wayne Newman shared an opposing viewpoint, saying the home itself was not a problem, but the location is.
“I think we have a responsibility to look at the location,” said Newman, who owns two buildings in the area. “(The transitional home) will have a detrimental effect on property owners in the area, particularly in an area that has been developed as a health care corridor. It will affect our property values.
“We’re not against this project; it’s a noble cause,” said Newman. “It’s just not a viable option in this location.”
A motion to approve the conditional use permit was passed 3-2, with Valyncia Smith and Connie Alsobrook opposed.
During comments after the vote, Councilman Cleveland Stroud said the decision had been a difficult one.
“This is my seventh term, and I don’t know that I’ve spent as much time on anything as I did thinking about this,” he said. “And I did pretty much a 360 on it … I tried to weigh the pros and cons, and when I did that, the pros — in my mind — outweighed the cons. And there were a lot of cons.”
Robert L. Moore Disciple House is headquartered in Monroe. According to its website, Disciple House is a community service mission that provides homeless men with limited time (typically 12-18 months) of residential housing. While there, residents participate in strong education and employment training components that support the development of discipleship and positive Christian relationships. They also receive treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, if appropriate, and assistance finding and transitioning to permanent housing. Once they are employable, residents must be employed for the duration of their stay at the house.