A long running showdown over transitional housing for combat veterans in Old Town took a new turn at City Hall on Tuesday. Officials with a local charter school told Gene Cubbison that a compromise over the proposed facility may be on the way.
A long-running showdown over "transitional housing" for combat veterans in Old Town took a new turn at City Hall on Tuesday.
A challenge brought by a charter school across the street has been tabled, pending settlement talks with Veterans Administration officials.
The dispute involves the Old Town Academy on San Diego Avenue, which has an enrollment of 252 students.
Across the street is the former quarters of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, which has moved from the bluffside site on the east side of Interstate 5 to new quarters in downtown’s East Village.
The now-vacant building is where the VA wants to house up to 40 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders, in programs to return them to society.
School officials are wary of students being in such close proximity, but cautiously optimistic of a compromise that would allow for peaceful co-existence.
"The worst case scenario,” Old Town Academy founder Chris Celestino said in advance of a Tuesday afternoon City Council hearing, “is that the neighborhood doesn't accept it even if the school can get along with it. And that seems to be the path the VA has chosen to go down."
Old Town Academy parents and administrators worry about the prospect of troubled veterans causing disturbances near the school that would lead to lockdown situations.
A former schoolteacher not connected to the academy says lockdowns can be traumatic.
"The parents (get) very upset,” said Susie Morgan, during a visit to the neighborhood Tuesday morning. “It's a charter school, so they do rely on people choosing to come there. And that can affect their enrollment as well."
The VA plans to spend $30 million dollars over five years on the facility, to be called the Aspire Center, housing 40 mentally troubled veterans for an average of 90 days, but no more than six months.
Officials downplay the risk of danger.
"This is screened,” explains San Diego Veterans Medical Center director Jeffrey Gering. “These veterans are not a danger to themselves or others. The most sick veterans would be treated up in La Jolla at the medical center."
Also in the neighborhood Tuesday morning were residents of the nearby Veterans Village of San Diego, on a stroll from its location on Pacific Highway west of Interstate 5 .
Told of the dispute over the VA’s proposed San Diego Avenue facility, one who cited combat tours in Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq -- and struggles with PTSD – said she sees the transitional housing program as an asset to the community as a whole, and not a neighborhood safety hazard.
"And it would help so many people that are hurting, because nobody wants to help us veterans – nobody,” said Tracy Jackson. “They turn a blind eye to us, like we're nothing."
Tuesday afternoon, the City Council delayed until July 24th a vote on the VA's permit application, to allow the government, the academy, and Old Town residents and businesses to hammer out agreements on operating conditions for the facility.
The community wants certain security measures undertaken, and a written guarantee that no "acute care" veterans be housed or treated there.