Plans for a residential development off Fairfield Avenue just north of the former site of Lutheran Hospital would be good for the community for no other reason than they would mean the long-empty Duemling Clinic building would be demolished and replaced. But The Courtyard has promise to do much more.
The development will be home for a troubled segment of society: teens who have aged out of foster care. After turning 18, they are no longer automatically under court supervision.
One of the largest groups of homeless people in the United States is people aging out of foster care, said Rachel Tobin-Smith, executive director of SCAN, which is developing the project. Many such teens, after existing in a court-monitored system for years, are eager to leave the foster care system when they turn 18. Often, they seek out their birth parents but learn there was a reason courts ordered them removed from their homes, she said. And then they couch-surf – seek places to sleep.
A 2010 University of Chicago study found that teens and young adults who aged out of foster care were more likely to be not only homeless but also jobless, pregnant, uneducated or jailed than other people their age.
The Courtyard will have 36 units, including 12 with two bedrooms. But it will have more than just housing for the teens who live there. SCAN – Stop Child Abuse and Neglect – will offer classes on parenting and other life skills. A grant from WorkOne will pay for job-skills training. Residents can receive help applying for college. Park Center will use Medicaid money to hire life coaches to help the residents.
The project is a collaboration of government, non-profit agencies and the private sector. Ideal Suburban Homes of Decatur will use federal tax credits to pay for the bulk of the $5.2 million cost, similar to the tax credits the company is using to build Renaissance Pointe, the rent-to-own homes being built between Creighton Avenue and Pontiac Street in southeast Fort Wayne.
City and state government will contribute about $850,000 in federal money they have received. SCAN will offer classes there.
Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth, a non-profit based in Delphos, Ohio, with offices in Indiana and seven other states, will manage the homes.
Operating expenses will also come from a variety of sources, including grants and rents paid by tenants. The Medicaid reimbursements through Park Center will be a major source of operating revenue. To its credit, the state Department of Child Services, which reimburses foster parents, has started the Collaborative Care program, which will help pay expenses for teens who have aged out of foster care.
But make no mistake: Ever-changing government budget priorities and periodic economic downturns will undoubtedly make meeting the budget a struggle in some years.
Neighbors – who have seen many changes in the area since Lutheran Hospital departed – generally welcomed the project. The projects organizers sought input from neighborhood leaders as they developed the project.
Im very happy to see what is a neighborhood eyesore turn into what has the potential for a wonderful project, said Marcia Haaff, CEO of the Lutheran Foundation, based across Home Avenue from the site. She noted the collaboration among the various groups that is making the project possible, saying this coalition is something that could serve as a model for other projects.
The projects name is based on the prominent courtyard in the center of the building, which is there for more than just appearances. The projects design will promote interaction between residents; other indentations expose these spaces briefly to passersby and highlight the energy and optimism found within the building, the architectural plan states. The Courtyard is not related to Courtyard by Marriott hotels.
The demolition of the old Duemling Clinic will be good, but that should be just the beginning. If the goals are achieved, The Courtyard will not only improve the neighborhoods appearance but will also help teens and young adults who are some of societys most vulnerable citizens. SCAN, SAFY, Ideal Suburban Homes and others involved with the project deserve the communitys commendations.