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Neighbors concerned about sober house proposal in Sycamore

Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014 10:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:51 a.m. CDT
(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Sycamore resident Carolyne Schoen (left) pushes her daughter Olivia Schoen, 10 months, in a stroller while son Nathan Schoen, 4, rides ahead Wednesday afternoon. They are passing the house DeKalb County has under consideration for purchase to use as a Sober House. The house is located along the route the Schoen family typically uses for bike rides in their neighborhood.
(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@shawmedia.com)
Carolyn Schoen, of Sycamore, dresses daughter Olivia Schoen, 10 months, in her snowsuit on their living room couch Wednesday afternoon before going on a walk with her two older children. The Schoens live on Walnut Street, about a block away from the house DeKalb County has expressed interest in buying as a Sober House for the county's drug court.

SYCAMORE – Carolyn Schoen is worried her children won’t be able to ride their bikes on the only block near their home with sidewalk all the way around it.

Schoen and many of her neighbors are concerned about the proposed sober house at 303 Exchange St. for drug court participants in DeKalb County. The DeKalb County Board has not finalized the purchase, and it will be discussed at a meeting of the board’s Law and Justice Committee at 6:30 p.m. today in the county Administration Building, 110 E. Sycamore St., Sycamore.

The ordinance authorizing the purchase of the house for $146,000 was sent back to committee after about 20 neighbors appeared at the most recent County Board meeting March 19 to protest the purchase.

Schoen wasn’t able to attend the meeting but said she walks that block with her three children, ages 7, 4 and 10 months.

“We’ve become friendly with a lot of the neighbors,” Schoen said. “We live a couple of blocks away, but that is the only block in the neighborhood with sidewalks all the way around, making it a safe place for my kids to ride their bikes.”

Larry Bingham, who lives nearby on Sycamore Street, expressed his concerns at the meeting.

“This is an old neighborhood with many children,” Bingham told the board. “There are children playing outside, couples walking. We’re concerned because no details have been provided.”

Many of the neighbors concede that a facility to aid recovery is needed – they just don’t like the location.

“We’re not against having a drug-rehab facility,” said Hazel Retherford, who lives on Sycamore Street. “We just don’t want it in this residential neighborhood.”

Drug court coordinator Marilyn Stromborg said this type of home is needed for men who participate in the program, and it will be the first of its kind in the county. Women in the program stay at Discovery House, run by the Ben Gordon Center.

She said the program is structured, and residents will be supervised by a house manager and the drug court team. They would have to do chores, and attend counseling sessions and other meetings.

Bingham’s wife, Carol Bingham, said the neighbors won’t know who is in the neighborhood.

“How will the children differentiate between the men in the house – who are now their neighbors – and strangers,” Carol Bingham said. “There are just so many issues here.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the residents will follow the rules and be fine,” Retherford said. “All it takes is one problem.”

County Board member Anita Jo Turner, D-Sycamore, said the purchase goes against the county’s 100-year plan, which would not see any further development of the county campus east of Walnut Street. The proposed sober house is on the northeast corner of Walnut and Exchange streets.

“The county has bought numerous properties and torn down houses,” Retherford said. “They assured us, under the 50-year and 100-year plans, they would never jump east of Walnut Street.”

Marge Johnson, who has owned a home on Sycamore Street since 1968, said she has watched what she calls the decimation of the neighborhood.

“The promise you made to us when you took the land for eventual expansion of the county jail was that you wouldn’t cross Walnut Street,” Johnson said. “Do not buy this house for any reason.”

If you go

What: DeKalb County Board Law and Justice Committee meeting

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: DeKalb County Administration Building, 110 E. Sycamore St., Sycamore

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