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Loudon residents oppose housing plan for homeless men

  • Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • Concord's Open Hands Resource Center is interested in purchasing Lovejoy Farm in Loudon and turning it into transitional housing for homeless men.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

A proposal from a Christian nonprofit group to offer housing for homeless men in Loudon has come under fire from a group of neighbors.

The town’s zoning board will hold a hearing Thursday about Open Hands Resource Center’s plan to turn a bed and breakfast on Lovejoy Road into a farm and home for the homeless. For the past few weeks, a group of Loudon residents have exchanged emails, held meetings and voiced opposition.

“Why Loudon, why out here?” asked Jen Mercer, who lives on Lovejoy Road. “I think the idea of it is a great idea, helping people who want a hand up instead of a handout. However, I’m very concerned that that’s not the type of people we’re going to get out here.”

Open Hands Resource Center, which runs a drop-in center for the homeless on North Main Street in Concord, hopes to purchase Lovejoy Farm at 268 Lovejoy Road. John Moretto, the center’s director, said he’ll live on the farm with his family and as many as 12 homeless men. The men would work on the farm and receive help finding full-time jobs and homes of their own. They must agree to drug tests and background checks.

Moretto was invited to speak with concerned residents on Lovejoy Road two weeks ago, where he said he wouldn’t allow sex offenders to live on the farm. He said he already knows many of the men who will live there, and he feels comfortable allowing them around his wife, two daughters and 1-year-old granddaughter.

“Essentially there’s the equating of homelessness with having to be some type of criminal . . . which couldn’t be any further from the truth,” Moretto said.

But his visit hasn’t allayed the concerns of many neighbors, who think Loudon isn’t the right setting for a transitional housing facility.

Becky Herrmann, who lives near the farm on Old Shaker Road, said the quiet, residential neighborhood is filled with young families. When she heard of Moretto’s plan, she began meeting with neighbors.

“So we talked about the fact that it would be a revolving door for 12 homeless men, where we don’t know who they are,” Herrmann said. “But then also we thought that the plan itself wasn’t really thought through because he was going to be taking . . . 12 homeless men at a time from Concord and bringing them to Loudon where there aren’t any resources. There isn’t public transportation. We don’t really have any jobs around here.”

Mark Seltzer lives on Lovejoy Road and has the same concern. He works for a federal agency that provides grants for transitional housing, and he said it’s most important to offer housing close to business and social service centers. Moretto’s “heart is in the right place,” Seltzer said, but he worries about his lack of experience as a housing provider.

“He’s trying to put these clientele in a rural setting,” Seltzer said. “And they do get bored, and they do like to wander.”

Mercer, one of the residents who attended the recent meeting with Moretto, said she didn’t feel that he had adequate answers to her questions.

“They don’t have services,” she said. “They don’t have transportation. They’re not going to have vehicles, so how do they (get) to and from any doctor appointments . . . it just seems to me like it needs more of a plan and more procedures in place than currently.”

Moretto has said he will provide transportation to jobs and appointments for residents. He’ll offer transportation to a weekly substance abuse support group at a local church. And though he will keep his job as a mason, he’ll live on the farm to provide supervision.

After attempting to answer residents’ questions, Moretto said he felt frustrated. He understood that the residents don’t know him, so they may struggle to trust his judgment. But he felt they were discriminating against him and stereotyping the homeless.

“The meeting was clearly more of an ambush than anything else,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to give full answers to the questions. . . . It was more of an opportunity for them to tell us that they didn’t want us there. And I understand that.”

Not every neighbor is opposed to the plan; some offered kind words to Moretto after that meeting. Robert Berger, who lives across the street from the farm, spoke in support of Open Hands Resource Center at a zoning board meeting last month.

“I thought that it is something that’s needed, that we need to look out for our fellow man,” he said. “And I believe that if we can help them re-establish their ability to make a living and get back with their family or back on their feet, then we should do that as long as they are willing to do their part.”

Berger said his neighbors have a right to disagree with Moretto’s plans, but he has one question for them: “I wonder where they would like it to be? So long as it’s in somebody else’s backyard, is that the feeling?”

Some neighbors insist that they’re looking at the situation objectively. It’s not simply the idea of moving the homeless into the neighborhood that is worrisome, said Lee Laughlin, who lives about a mile away on Old Shaker Road.

“I would have to have a really strong feeling that he has solid plans in place to support the men, the needs of the men he’s dealing with, and that he has a very solid structure in place in terms of the comings and going, and behavior and security issues,” she said. “And I just don’t feel that those exist right now.”

Moretto said the men will have a regimented schedule with work, required Bible study and enforced curfews and bedtimes. He’s modeling the facility after a similar farm in Skowhegan, Maine. And he’s hopeful the zoning board will approve a special exception this week, which would allow a boarding house at the former bed and breakfast. Open Hands Resource Center has a purchase-and-sales agreement to buy the 8-acre property for $235,000 from Loudon N.H. Properties LLC, pending zoning board approval.

“I’m fully confident that the board will, in a more unbiased manner, listen to what it is that we’re going to be doing there,” Moretto said. “I’m certain that they’ll be able to . . . just weed through the fear which is bringing forward these concerns.”

Several residents said yesterday that they plan to attend Thursday’s meeting and speak against the zoning exception.

“I’m hoping they really think about it and think about what it could possibly do to the neighborhood and property values and just the quiet, peaceful neighborhood that it is,” said Courtney Glazier, who has lived on Lovejoy Road for 10 years. “I am hoping that they reject it.”

The board will meet Thursday night at 7 in the town’s community building on Village Road.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Gandhi once said, "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes" as well as "Hate the sin, love the sinner." These people in question are just that, people. They are trying to make a new life for themselves and the least we can do as a community is support their noble desire. We cannot let our misguided stereotypes and preconceived notions about homeless people get in the way of the common decency, goodwill and compassion that these people desperately need. If as a society we continue to treat homeless people as subhuman how do we expect them to do anything but live up to our foul expectations? We need a change in mindset and this is a start.

Absolutely, perfectly said.

If the churches want to be caretakers for these men then why not put them up in the church itself? Why do they need to buy a property and take it off the tax rolls when they already own tax-free property with cooking facilities and restrooms?

To set the record straight jonstah, Helping hands outreach center does NOT own any building to house homeless men. This is a new outreach for them. They are looking to purchase the LoveJoy Farm which is an eyesore and turn it into a productive farm and housing for these homeless men. They can be put to work in fixing up the place rather than "hanging" around downtown Concord doing nothing.

You forgot to mention it would also be used to house Moretto and his family.

I can understand that the neighbors would have issues with this. There were issues with the Friendly Kitchen before it moved. Some of the patrons where urinating in the area, drinking and drugging and it was located in a residential area. The other thing is home values. They will definitely go down with a facility in the area.

Fear of "the other" is one of the most destructive of human emotions. It shows up in cases like this, the resistance to relocating the Friendly Kitchen, ethnic segregation performed by the Merrimack River in Manchester, the "blockbusting" of Jewish neighborhoods in Boston 60 years ago, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, religious conflict in Iraq (among others) and a statement by George Zimmerman that "they always get away with it." It's sad that as a species we seem so unable to learn from our self-made catastrophes.

I assume GZ to mean THEIVES always get away....Gracchus, why do you assume otherwise?

I agree that these opponents’ comments reflect prejudice and ignorance, but only because they seem unequivocally unwilling to try to allay their concerns. Their rural homes now provide the strong protection agains people with bad intent inherent in inaccessability; and strangers rarely cruise remote sparsely populated areas for fear of sticking out like sore thumbs. On the flip side, once people of unknown potential risk -- a/k/a “strangers,” are allowed to blend in, inaccessability and remoteness become significant liabilities, and residents potential sitting-duck victims. The minimum John Moretto needs to do is to ensure airtight background checks that disqualify anyone with a record of other than, non-violent, victimless offenses, at worst.

Not in my backyard syndrome. One resident mentions behavior and security. Assuming the homeless are criminals? From another, "they do get bored, they do like to wander". They? What does she mean by "they" I can't help but to ask. If this isn't blanket stereotyping and discrimination, I don't know what is.

I live in Loudon and I support Open Hands resource Center's plan to allow homeless men to live at Love Joy Farm. I know and trust John Moretto's plan for homeless men to live and work at the farm. This would be a win-win for the town of Loudon and for homeless men to have work and direction in their lives. The neighbors need to give this ministry a chance to work in our town.

On the surface, this sounds like a "not in my backyard" issue, and one that will probably exist anywhere for one reason or another. That said, John Moretto has my admiration for attempting to offer any real response to this sad plight. He's done more than many would just by considering his resources, anticipating and addressing the opposition, and remaining true to his wish to act on need. That's a good guy.

Would he have to pay property taxes on his house, that doubles as a homeless men's shelter?

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