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Gainesville residents voice concerns over incoming homeless center
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Jerry Deyton, left, pastor and operator of a day center for the homeless in Gainesville called The Way, speaks with Doug Hanson, advocate for chronically homeless men. - photo by Joshua Silavent

Brian Lester said the first he heard of workforce development transitional housing for the homeless near his home was a letter taped to his mailbox.

A property at 1255 Vine St. was leased for an annual $1 rent to North Georgia Works, a project spearheaded by Doug Hanson, in March. The building is near Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

“The county owned this building. You would think as a courtesy they would let the residents of this neighborhood know its intended use,” Lester said.

The letter was from Gainesville Councilwoman Barbara Brooks informing nearby residents of a meeting on Monday, April 23, at the North Georgia Community Foundation about the project. Lester said he felt the neighborhood’s residents were not given adequate notice for voicing their concerns.

Brooks did not a return a call for comment from The Times Wednesday.

“We expect to receive some other concerns from people that we will then come back to and respond to in a positive way,” Hanson said.

Hanson said the project is based off the Georgia Works model in Atlanta, which describes itself as transforming “chronically homeless men into self-sufficient and productive members of society.”

The program would give the participants housing while teaching them skills, Hanson said.

“What they’re wanting to do is a good and noble cause and I understand that there’s a need for this, but not in a residential neighborhood,” neighborhood resident Beverly Nordholz said.

Nordholz expressed concern that the people manning the center at night were graduates of the program and not trained supervisors.

“We’re in the process of working through all those security issues now. In time, we will be able to completely answer those questions. We will have staff that will be there 24 hours … They can rest assured that there will be security in this place 24 hours, and they will be people who are trained in all aspects of security,” Hanson said.

Hanson said the requirements for North Georgia Works’ participants include giving up all government support, being clean from drugs and alcohol and having a will to work.

Nordholz said the residents were unsure if they would have any recourse available, considering the lease was approved at a March 6 Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“We didn’t want them spying in our garages while they’re walking, staking places out. We don’t know who these people are. They could be on drugs. This is a neighborhood with children, elderly,” Lester said.

Participants that abuse substances while in the program will leave immediately, Hanson said.

A meeting is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at Lakeview Academy in the cafeteria. Lester said Hall County Commissioner Jeff Stowe had been invited, but he did not return a call Wednesday, April 25, from The Times seeking to confirm he will be there.

“We’re displeased with how our county officials went about this. We feel like they did us a disservice,” Lester said.

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