Neighbors Oppose Group Home on Greenlea Drive

A Fairweather lodge for residents with mental illness stirs dismay in the Amherst Acres neighborhood.

Five years ago, Christina Herrle and her husband Philip decided Greenlea Drive in Moon was the perfect place to raise their daughter.

The quiet suburban stretch of split-level, post-war houses is the kind of neighborhood where kids run freely from yard to yard and neighbors get together for summer barbeques, Herrle said.

It's also a neighborhood that now is lined in little green signs that read "Protect our children. Say NO to a Fairweather lodge." 

Herrle and a number of other residents of the street said they are dismayed to learn that a group home for people with mental illness soon will open at 162 Greenlea Drive.

"It means I will no longer feel safe," Herrle said. She said she fears her family will feel it is necessary to take extra safety precautions when the home opens. 

"Can you imagine having a surveillance camera on your house?" she said.

The single-family house at 162 Greenlea Drive, across the street from Herrle’s home, was purchased in October by Homestead-based Transitional Services, Inc., an organization that provides a range of services for people with intellectual and psychological disabilities.  

CEO Sharon A. Alberts said the organization plans to open a Fairweather lodge on the residential street in coming months but is still making repairs to the home. Fairweather lodges are group home programs established throughout the country under the principle that people with severe mental illness flourish by living and working together, independent from hospitalization. Independently operated lodges exist in about a dozen states. Stairways Behavioral Health operates one on Eighth Street in Erie.

"Quite frankly, the state hospitals are closing," Alberts said. "[People with mental illness] can't all live in the city. In fact, I spoke with one of the neighbors this morning and told her to come over and visit when we open up. We'd really like to have a dialogue about the program."

New Neighbors

Moon Planning Director Adam McGurk said the township earlier this week reviewed and approved an occupancy permit sought by Transitional Services, Inc., giving the organization the go-ahead to move into Greenlea Drive.  Because what had been a single-family house now will be considered a group residence, township officials had to approve that use of the home for that purpose.

Now, Alberts said, Transitional Services will  interview and screen candidates for the home. When it opens, four roommates will share the 2,000 square-foot dwelling. They’ll learn to live independently and to acclimate to the Moon community, she said.

“We don’t provide court-ordered treatment,” Alberts said. “And we screen and perform criminal background checks. The typical diagnosis for one of the residents could be anxiety, it could be depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.”

Alberts said Fairweather homes typically are located in more urban areas, near readily accessible transportation and business. Greenlea Drive, she said, doesn’t fit the typical description of a Fairweather lodge neighborhood.

“The neighbors are going to say there’s no transportation [on the street],” she said. “But we will have at least one individual who can drive and who can transport people. And we have staff and vans who will also drive people to their employment.”

 Alberts said intermittent supervision and guidance is provided, but no staff will live in the home. The organization is funded through grants and “funding from the county,” she said. Residents will be expected to find employment and pay rent.

“We provide housing, and we provide support,” Alberts said. “We find that the people we serve really do make progress. They engage in life.”

But residents said they worry that a lack of supervision poses a safety risk for children in the neighborhood. 

“I understand they have a right to live here,” said Philip Herrle. “Everybody needs a chance. But is this really the place for them to live? Right here with all these children around? In the event that an incident happens, I want to know a person who I can contact directly about it.”

 An Unwelcome Arrival

When Venus and Greg Thompson, along with a group of other Greenlea residents, spoke before the Moon Board of Supervisors earlier this month, they said they wanted to be clear: In their view, the addition of the Fairweather lodge to the street would forever change the residential neighborhood they love.

The Thompsons live next door to the soon-to-be group home. After being awakened by snowplows early on a recent morning, they began looking into who had bought the house at 162 Greenlea. The Thompsons, who have lived there for eight years, learned by searching Allegheny County property records that Transitional Services had purchased the home.

“It was done in secrecy,” Venus Thompson said. “We found out by looking into it ourselves.”

Residents on the street complained to township supervisors in near-unison: They’re worried their properties will be devalued by the proximity of the group home. They’re concerned it's not a good fit for their neighborhood. They say the wording of the township ordinance that permits it in the neighborhood is too vague. They fear for the safety of their kids around the Fairweather residents. By their own count, 31 young children live on the street.

They’ve written to newspapers, circulated a petition and contacted state Rep. Mark Mustio, Thompson said.

“We’ll sell,” she said. “It’s too much to have to monitor your neighbors all the time.”

William Cole said he normally hosts a neighborhood block party each summer, complete with a blow-up pool and waterslide.

“But this year I don’t know. I don’t know if parents will let their kids come over because we’re so close the [group home],” Cole said.

Alberts said she knows about the green signs lining the street. Although the lodge may not be welcome, she said, she hopes the house will prove to be a good home for its intended residents.

"I think it needs to be expected everytime you have people who are different from them living next to them," she said. "My pledge to them is that we will be be good neighbors."

Lori Stroupe February 10, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Isn't that a conflict of interest! Having friends on the board!
Judi Kletzli February 10, 2011 at 07:21 PM
I have to say that when I was sitting at the supervisors meeting, 4 of my neighbors plus my husband spoke to the supervisors. Mr. Sinatra commented to us (approximately 40 people from Amherst Acres were present at the meeting) at length and showed real compassion. Mr. Vitale and Mr. Gribben only gave us gave us one to two sentences. Mr. McLaughlin was not present at the meeting. And Mr. Eicher who is NEVER without words said: "NO COMMENT". How can a man that has served this township for as long as he has cannot or will not comment on the safety of the residents of Moon Township. His "NO COMMENT" was a shock to me and many others. This man should be ashamed of himself for allowing innocent people, young and old to be put in danger. My question is WHY, Mr. Eicher, WHY?? I am sure that in future meetings to come we will hear many, many comments coming from Mr. Eicher on other matters of Moon Township but not on the safety of Amherst Acres residents.
Lori Stroupe February 11, 2011 at 01:54 AM
Anyone know where I can get a copy of the petition? I have a ton of other family and friends who want to sign it. All residents of Moon twp. Who DO NOT want this lodge anywhere in Moon! Has anyone contacted the School board, just an idea?
Poetic_Dutchess February 11, 2011 at 03:03 AM
http://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/SearchZip.aspx And by the way I have friends who suffer from Schizophrenia and Mental Illness and live by me and they are harmeless they have jobs and live like the rest of us and there is your list for the sex offenders there is one in the Sharon Apartments which is right there within Amherst. Thank you everyone and I love you all God Bless :)
Michael February 11, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Forgive me for sounding ignorant, but, exactly what danger do these people threaten the local residents with? From what I can tell, the people that would live in this home are people that are on the mend, not deranged psychopaths.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 02:31 PM
How are they being secretive? Or, perhaps more accurately, how are they being and more secretive than anyone else who buys a home? Somehow I doubt you or anyone else in this area fired up flares and took out add space in the local newspaper to announce your arrival.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 02:33 PM
To be fair, there are a billion reasons to buy a home in any area. However, I do very much agree with your desire for a meeting with them. That would likely be the best way for everyone to get the voice heard.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 02:35 PM
If you don't know anything about the people, then why are you so against them living next to you?
Michael February 11, 2011 at 02:39 PM
That is an excellent question, why is everyone so worried? I haven't seen any evidence to suggest there is anything to be worried about. You may want to take a look at the zoning ordinances to find out what you can do with various levels of residential zones. Are you going door to door with a background check on yourself, or is anyone else in your community? If you demand it from one person, you should demand it from everyone. I'm sure you have no problem with all of your SPI being given out.
Will February 11, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Have you met the people moving in? Do you know anything about the people moving in other than the fact the have a disability? These people are probably no more dangerous then the your other neighbors. You could next to a "normal" person your whole life and not know how dangerous they really are. The individuals in this housing must be able to hold jobs... They are not on the extreme end of the spectrum. Years ago people would have the same reaction when people of a different race moved next door... I guess we still live in a time where people are closed minded and unaccepting.
Judi Kletzli February 11, 2011 at 04:38 PM
I respect Michael's comments but what causes me to question his comments is that he didn't put his last name on the comment list. Why make comments when you don't publish your whole name? What are you hiding from? I can tell you, Michael that 2 of my neighbors work with Mentally ill people, they understand what is involved. And I will believe them over anyone that is stating other facts that they don't truly know. My 2 neighbors are trained professionals. They have seen what happens when a mentally ill person does not take their medication. With no supervision in the home, who will make sure they take their medication? Michael, are you a trained individual that works with the Mentally Ill? If you don't live in Amherst maybe you could find a house near you and have this group of people as your neighbors. That would solve a lot of problems.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 05:04 PM
I'm hiding from you. The amount of hate and bigotry in your statements is frightening, and the last thing I want is for you people to track me down and harass me. I actually do live in the area, so that is a real concern to me. Have you considered that the people running these homes are also professionals? Do you really believe that if they think that these people need such close attention that they would put them in a house by themselves?
Phil Herrle February 11, 2011 at 06:27 PM
I find it interesting that all the people who think this home is a great idea, don't live near it.
Judi Kletzli February 11, 2011 at 07:00 PM
I do not care who you are. The only thing I said was you didn't put in a last name but you are throwing all kinds of statements towards us and making statements of our character. Now you are calling me a person with hatred and bigotry-which couldn't be far from the truth. Why would you insult me like that? You can hide all you want-I don't really care. I am the last person to EVER come and harrass you. This is the most hurtful thing you could have said about me.
Lori Stroupe February 11, 2011 at 07:05 PM
I couldnt agree more!
Michael February 11, 2011 at 07:08 PM
I made no statements about you or your character. Only about your statements. Perhaps it was simply the way they were worded. However, given your statements it seems that you don't want these people because you don't want these people. Not for any quantifiable reason, just because they have a mental illness. And quite simply that is bigotry. If I'm wrong, please tell me what I am misunderstanding, but so far I see no plain reason why these people would be a danger to your or anyone else in your neighborhood.
Lori Stroupe February 11, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Quote "The typical diagnosis for one of the residents could be anxiety, it could be depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.” Michael, why don’t you do some research on the above topics, before you start bashing everyone else’s concerns???
Lori Stroupe February 11, 2011 at 07:19 PM
oh, one more thing, if that’s what it takes to keep this out of our neighborhood, then I will personally mail my back ground check to everyone.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 07:21 PM
And so that means they're going to attack your family? That means that they are a danger to everyone around them? That means that they should remained locked up in a facility for the rest of their lives? That they are not allowed to even try to lead a normal life? Quite the punishment.
Michael February 11, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Maybe you guys should form a homeowners association, that way you could force people to undergo a background check. I mean, you guys go lucky with this one, the group that bought the house was a give away. Can't be too careful with all the crazies running around these days.
Poetic_Dutchess February 11, 2011 at 10:11 PM
I applaud you Michael, I have lived in Moon Township, in the same house my parents raised me in, all my life and I am not too proud of living here anymore, I graduated from Moon and I was bullied, because of middle class snobs and their kids, because they thought they were better than me because they had more money than I did. I would love to have these Amherstians live in my neighborhood, because they'd be boarding themselves in and not even letting their children go out to play without a bodyguard I have felons, mexicans, sex offenders, drug dealers, alcoholics, and people with mental illness on my road, and I even raised my son here and we are all still alive my friends have mental illness and they are like family to me. To me this is discrimination. But basically I cannot lower myself to be like these people, because I believe in God and God created us all and I have faith. I may even go to this place and become friends with these people with mental illness, and show them they are loved and wanted. But this is all I have to say.
Poetic_Dutchess February 11, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Oh and by the way I have friends who live in Amherst and I am always in your neighborhood
Colleen Rivers February 11, 2011 at 11:59 PM
"Quote "The typical diagnosis for one of the residents could be anxiety, it could be depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.” " Depression is suffered by a vast majority in the United States, including myself. Yet I am able to carry a normal life. I have a lot of friends who have depression. I had a friend who had severe depression, yet, because of medication and therapy, she was able to continue to live normally. I have a relative who is diagonosed with Bipolar Disorder. This means that he'll have mood swings, from feeling very happy and content, to feeling disgusted with himself. He has NEVER harmed others or even yelled at them in anger. He is also taking medication and going to therapy. He will graduate college in a year. (He also won a scholarship for that college.) I will admit, schizophrenia does indeed sound scary. It's intimidating 'cause the knowledge you usually receive is from the media, and they *love* using scare tactics. In most cases, those with schizophrenia have a lot of paranoia, hallucinations, and depression. It most certainly does NOT mean that they will attack you or your children. A lot of you are forgetting something- these are people who have a chemical imbalance in their head. An imbalance that is easily treatable with therapy and medication. Do you really believe that this house will be full of people without treatment, running wild in your neighborhood? This speaks of someone who hasn't done their research.
Colleen Rivers February 12, 2011 at 12:38 AM
I also find it interesting that you have yet to give a clear reason. Yes, they have a mental illness. But have you researched exactly what exactly IS depression/anxiety/schizophrenia/bipolar disorder? All of those illnesses are treatable with therapy and medication. You don't even know WHO is moving into your neighborhood. The ONLY information you have is that they will have a mental illness. Fairweather lodges are designed for people who want a chance to live a normal life, just like you.
Lori Stroupe February 12, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Yes Colleen, these symptoms are treatable with medication and therapy. But how do I or you or anyone know if these tenants will be taking the proper doses if taking it at all. There is NO supervision. As for therapy, there will not be a licensed therapist on call or on duty. If you know all the details, because obviously we do not, please feel free to advise us with you professional outlook on the WHOLE situation
Donna Shubert February 20, 2011 at 08:56 PM
I have just seen all of these comments and the first that I heard of this Fairweather Lodge was the day of the township meeting when Amherst residents brought forth their concerns. I too am an Amherst resident - for 34 years. My biggest concern with the Lodge are the unsupervised residents. This is a plan of homes in which "Nice People Live Here". We want to keep it that way. We have many residents with children and also people who enjoy walking and being out in their yards. I'm not so sure it will be the safe neighborhood that we are used to. Of course, I am also concerned about our home values - where will that go? Maybe it's time to consider looking elsewhere. I was very impressed with our new high school at the Open House - but this is quite a letdown with the Fairweather Lodge situation. I feel everyone in Moon Township should be concerned about this. It is only the beginning.
Shashonna Kelly March 13, 2011 at 03:35 AM
These people that are against Fairweather Lodge should realize one day it could be them that have a mental illness, and also one of there children could one day be mentally ill. They should be greatful that a place like this exist. People with mental illness are human beings with a right to have a happy life. They have RIGHTS like anyone elce. Who do these people who complain think they are??????
Joseph April 10, 2011 at 01:06 PM
I've worked with ill people who've had mental illnes like the ones going into Fairweather Lodge. They're unpredictable and violence against the neighbors is a very real possiability. I pity the people who live in that community. There's nothing worse than not knowing when an act of violence will be committed against your loved ones!
Shannon Storm April 10, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Joseph: I live on Greenlea and have been in this fight since the beginning. It's been very frustrating. We appreciate your comments. Would you mind posting it on the current article so that the supervisors will be sure to see them. It's important they see comments like this one from an outsider. Thanks very much.
Dee Shorr November 22, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Hello people, frankly I have a young daughter and I would be more afraid of these crazy neighbors than I would be of the people who just want to live their lives like we all do...you neighbors are downright scary in your hatred and ignorance and the greater risk of the two


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