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Freedom House Faces Opposition

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Developer Ron Stallings, who's well-known for his work to revitalize Jackson Ward, owns the St. Luke's building. His support for the move gave Freedom House hope that the surrounding neighborhoods would welcome their coming, but the nonprofit has found some fierce resistance.

A "give-and-take" strategy worked well for members of the Gilpin Courts Tenants Association, says Melba Gibbs, executive director of Freedom House. She asked them what they wanted to see in the new facility, she says, and the answers came fast: Computers they could use. A day-care center. A satellite office of the Virginia Employment Commission. "Anything is possible," Gibbs says. "It's just what the neighborhood embraces."

Members of the Historic Jackson Ward Association and other area groups seem far from embracing anything. City Councilman Bill Pantele says that many think Freedom House's plans are at odds with the city's vision of a hip, thriving Jackson Ward, including proposed multimillion-dollar residential development. "How consistent is that to have a homeless feeding project right across the bridge from it?" Pantele asks.

City planners have already advised Gibbs that they can't recommend approval of the move, because it doesn't fit in with master plans for downtown and Jackson Ward. They also sent her a 29-part request for a detailed outline of Freedom House's proposed operation — which is unnecessary, she says.

Gibbs points out that the area around St. Luke's is known as a drug dealer's hangout, a long way from upscale condos. Planners have long wanted Freedom House to move from 302 Canal St., and the other options, she says, are moving to Grace and Belvidere streets, next to the Daily Planet, or giving up entirely and letting the city pay $250,000 per year to feed its homeless. "It's not a Freedom House problem," she says, "it's a citywide problem." —

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