Public outrage over the planned re-opening of a group home operated by Lutheran Homes Society, Inc. in Lake Township has swayed the non-profit organization to abandon its plans and look for another site in Toledo.
Harry Blackmon, Executive Director of LHS Family and Youth Services, said Thursday the home at 1320 Bradner Road will be repaired and offered for sale.
“I frankly didn’t anticipate the neighborhood reaction,” he said. “Because we were only looking at placing a maximum of four autistic spectrum residents at the house, and slowly starting that up. I’m not going to fight the neighborhood. If they don’t want us there we’re not going to be there. I feel bad about it. These kids need a place but I can’t deal with the neighborhood reaction. ”
Richard Welling, a township trustee, confirmed Thursday the board of trustees has been notified of the decision by LHS.
About 45 residents of the Bradner Road area filled the trustees’ meeting room Tuesday and said the home’s residents would present a danger to children of neighboring families. They related problems they encountered when the group home - which initially opened in the early 1970s - was operating.
Jim Christiansen, of Bradner Road, told the trustees the home was “much different” when it opened and housed young children and was managed by a married couple.”
“The children were happy to be there,” he said. But conditions changed when the home began taking in teens.
“It was run like a jail,” Mr. Christiansen said, and “…not like a group home anymore.”
He told the trustees he began locking his doors even when he was working in the yard.
Residents of adjacent subdivisions, some of which weren’t even developed when the home first opened, cited instances of police being called to the home on numerous complaints.
Mr. Blackmon, who wasn’t at the meeting, described as “nonsense” some of the allegations that were raised there.
“The one thing that really frosted me was that we were closed up because of safety and fire violations. That was complete nonsense,” he said.
A fire code violation was corrected within 10 days, Mr. Blackmon said, and the home has since passed annual inspections.
Recently, the house hadn’t been used as a group home but an LHS staff social worker had been living there. Mr. Blackmon said LHS scaled back its group home program when the economy was good and it became more difficult to retain qualified social workers.
“We have a need for this program now and we were going to re-open it,” he said, acknowledging there had been problems at the home. “We spent years in that area and some of the statements were true. We had a boy who’d run off and he hid in somebody’s garage that was open. There was a girl who had run off and she was refusing to come back on her own and we called the police. We’re obligated to do that if a child leaves our supervision by administrative code. That’s our responsibility. Every time a child would get steamed or walk off the staff would need to do that. But these kids weren’t criminals. They were dependent and neglected kids.”
The program has had some success, he said, noting one youth is in his fourth year at Bowling Green State University with a 4 point grade average and plans to teach physics.
Opened as girls home
According to minutes of a meeting in 1972 of the township’s board of zoning appeals, the board approved a request by the then Lutheran Orphans and Old Folks Home to construct a group home for girls. The area is zoned R-2 residential and the organization apparently received a conditional use permit to operate a group home at the site.
Mr. Welling said the trustees will be researching whether the use permit for the parcel can be revoked.
There were 143 calls placed to the township police department from the home between 1995 and 2003, resulting in 21 reports being filed by officers, according to department records.
The reports include complaints of disorderly conduct, theft, criminal mischief, assault, unruly behavior, and one for drug use. There were also two rape reports. In October, 2000, a report was filed on the rape of a 15-year-old male. The suspect was a 17-year-old male. In August, 1998, another rape report was filed, listing a 16-year-old male victim and 17-year-old male suspect.
Between 1986 and 1995 there were six reports filed for runaway juveniles.
LHS group home programs are licensed by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and certified by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.