Reaction mixed over border kids housing plan
Patti Singer and Brian Sharp, Staff writers
While the city explores a proposal to use the former Blossom South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to house immigrant children, initial reaction from neighbors is mixed, and filled with questions about the impact on the area.
Those first impressions will be summarized and delivered to the city on Wednesday, as requested, said Chris Stevens, president of the Upper Monroe Neighborhood Association. Some are opposed, she said, and those who support the idea almost across the board go on to list concerns about how the detention center would be run and what it would look like.
“We don’t know anything about this,” she said of a neighborhood just adjusting to loss of the nursing home.
“We have tremendous safety questions and quality of life questions. Is this going to be, essentially, a federal prison next to us? Are they going to fence it in?”
The nursing home at 1175 Monroe Ave. closed this spring after the state Department of Health detailed long-standing problems with quality of care. A representative of Israel Segal, who owns the property, recently contacted the city and offered the building. That led to a request for neighbor input, which went out this past weekend.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said her office would talk with City Council, neighborhood groups, community service providers and faith organizations prior to drafting any proposal. There is no timetable yet, the mayor said, stressing that there is only an inquiry at this point, which has “sparked us to do our due diligence.”
She said the city has reached out to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., but has not been contacted by federal officials with any interest in housing the children in Rochester.
“We are looking at … what would be required of the city, if anything,” the mayor said, adding: “I don’t believe that there will be any resources that the city will have to put up.”
Up to 172 children could be housed there, according to the city. Warren said the city has a “moral obligation to show compassion to these young people.” And if the children are housed in Rochester, she said, the city has an obligation to ensure that they are in a safe environment that provides legal, spiritual and emotional support.
Having such a facility here also could mean jobs for local residents, Warren said.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner sent a letter to President Barack Obama last week offering that the city would house some of the children. Elsewhere, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are among the latest to step forward with an interest in housing some of the 40,000 Central American children that have turned up at the U.S.-Mexico border this year and have prompted federal officials to scour the country to find suitable housing for them.
Federal law requires that children be placed in protective care while their immigration cases are resolved.
“Syracuse would welcome the opportunity to provide shelter while the larger global issues causing them to leave home for such an arduous journey are resolved,” she wrote, adding that the Department of Health and Human Services already had completed a partial assessment of a potential site there and, “we stand ready to expedite this process and work through any issues so we can accomplish the goal of providing a safe and welcoming site.”
Like Warren, Miner noted an intent to involve the religious, academic and non-profit communities, saying all had “expressed to me a commitment to be part of a holistic solution to mitigate the humanitarian crisis we are all seeing unfold.”
“You have children who are suffering,” Warren said. “We need to show some compassion. … I hope we will.”
According to a note Stevens sent to residents, Blossom South is 68,000 square feet with 86 bedrooms, 11 of which are private and 75 semi-private. Utilities such as air conditioning, heating and electricity have been upgraded, the note stated.
City Council member Elaine Spaull, executive director for The Center for Youth, said the mayor is taking the right next step.
“I don’t think we would go out looking for this,” she said, but hoped the community would respond as it would to any children if the situation presents itself. “In a temporary way, if we treat it like a crisis, because that is what it would be — a crisis response.”
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