Give it a chance and then decide if there are problems.
That, essentially, was the offer Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP) made Tuesday when neighbors turned out to protest a plan to use the former Rep. Paul Sherlock home at 6 Northampton St. as a home for four unwed teen mothers and their children. CCAP was seeking board approval to house six mothers at the location.
With the prospect of a heated hearing before the Zoning Board of Review, CCAP attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi asked the residents to gather in the hallway outside City Council Chambers. He said CCAP was prepared to postpone its petition to increase the number of tenants in the house for four months because, under current zoning, no variance is required to house four tenants; the house would start operations in about two months. After four months, CCAP would return to the zoning board with its request, but neighbors would have had the opportunity to evaluate operations and base their reactions on reality. As the petition was postponed, CCAP would be required to notify neighbors of the next hearing.
For some, the gesture was not enough and too late.
Next-door neighbor Amy Miller told the gathering if CCAP was sincere in its efforts to be good neighbors, it would have outlined plans long before scheduling the hearing that was followed up with a letter on March 6.
“I feel that this was sung under the rug,” she said.
Miller’s concern, and that of a couple of other immediate neighbors, is that they would be subjected to the crying of six babies and undesirable comings and goings of strangers attracted by the house.
Ward 2 Councilman Thomas Chadronet said a number of residents voiced concerns that the young mothers would be a bad influence on the neighborhood, with boyfriends coming and going at different times and with the young women walking the streets to reach area markets and smoking.
CCAP Executive Director Joanne McGunagle appealed to neighbors to be accepting of the young mothers, to visit their Cranston home where they have four mothers and to call Cranston police and ask if there have been any complaints.
“The last thing we want to do is to be bad neighbors … for you to feel unsafe in your home. Give us four moths to show these girls are not criminals,” she said. She urged the neighbors “to get to know and embrace these girls.”
It wasn’t an idea many neighbors were going to take to heart yet.
According to the March 6 letter to neighbors, the home will be fully staffed 24 hours a day, year-round, with a staff member awake during the overnight shift.
“The girls don’t have cars; we provide transportation for their access to health and dental care, job readiness training, food shopping and child care. We help them with social and life skills that foster independence,” reads the letter.
The CCAP program is licensed by the Department of Children, Youth and Family and has operated in Cranston since 1998 and for two years on Lake Street in Warwick. The program is highly structured. Mothers are required to leave the program when they reach 18½ years old. Some have been as young as 13. The youngest currently registered is 16.
Participants must be enrolled in an educational program or be working and children must be enrolled in off-premises daycare while they are away from the house. They have a 10 p.m. curfew and there are rules regarding visitors and how long they can visit. They cannot consume alcohol or use illegal drugs at any time.
Shekarchi termed CCAP’s willingness to continue the petition “a gift,” although some neighbors questioned whether they could get an accurate picture in the two months the facility would be operational before the agency appealed to the board again. Shekarchi turned down the suggestion that CCAP give the neighbors six months.
“It hurts the program too much,” he said.
“Hopefully, the fears will go away,” Shekarchi said.
He went on to say he recognizes there will be some people who won’t change their minds, but he asked everyone to act in good faith.
The appeal resonated with William Roberge, who had been following the discussion.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said of the delay. And to make it clear a program for unwed mothers was going to operate from the house regardless, saying, “They are there no matter what.”