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Fights Near Broadway Youth Center Renew Neighbors' Calls for More Security

By Serena Dai | February 12, 2014 7:17am
 Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) talks to South East Lake View Neighbors Monday.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) talks to South East Lake View Neighbors Monday.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Fights near the Broadway Youth Center have renewed neighbors' calls for more security and accountability from the youth health and social services agency.

At least two incidents have occurred since the Howard Brown Health Center affiliate gained approval last month for a temporary special-use permit to operate at the Wellington United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., members of South East Lake View Neighbors said. 

At the end of January, a fight involving 15 people on Broadway led to a leg injury for a 27-year-old man who later went to the youth center for treatment, according to police.

And a "disagreement" between two clients at the center reported by a local crime blog — and confirmed by Howard Brown's general counsel — led to a 911 call last week. 

After the argument, the center decided not to let the two clients involved come to the center at the same time, Michelle Wetzel, the general counsel, said.

But resident John Rafkin complained: "These incidents just didn't happen before this permit."

Residents said they felt mocked by the Zoning Board of Appeals, who challenged them to prove the incidents were related to the center. They sought help Monday from the church and Howard Brown to get to the root of the problems.

"It was very offensive to have the board snicker, to have people snicker, that 'How do you know it's related to Broadway Youth Center?'" said Rafkin, referencing a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last month.

Resident Anne Voshel said that she has security camera footage of people trespassing on her front porch, but without comparable footage from the church, it's impossible to prove the people came from the center.

The church and the center should be taking more responsibility, Rafkin said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who attended Monday's South East Lake View Neighbors meeting, said the church does not want security cameras because of privacy concerns for visitors, such as those attending addiction recovery programs.

Wetzel said Howard Brown has no plans to install cameras.

Tunney noted that the special-use permit has a probationary period that ends in March 2015, and it's not impossible that Howard Brown and the church eventually will make changes to appease neighbors.

"My name is on this agreement," Tunney said. "I want to make sure that we stay as responsive as we possibly can."

Wetzel said that in both of the aforementioned fights, the center participants and staff called 911 themselves, and the situations were resolved. She's previously said that police recorded no crimes coming from the center before the permit's approval.

Church and center volunteers also now patrol farther down the street than when they first arrived, Wetzel said. They now walk from Broadway to Clark Street on Wellington Avenue instead of just outside the church.

But having volunteers isn't enough, said Mike Demetriou, president of the neighborhood group. Neighbors want professional security hired, he said, something that the current good neighbor agreement doesn't require.

"I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask," he said.

On Monday Tunney, who supported the special-use permit while the neighborhood group voted against it, ended talks about the center, saying that a monthly open house at the church would be a better avenue to discuss how to proceed.

Open houses to discuss the center will be on the first Thursday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. at the church. The next one will be on March 6.

"You’re my neighbor, you’re my community," Tunney said. "This is an ongoing relationship. And hopefully it will be a productive one."