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Planned Ohio home for homeless veterans denied

CINCINNATI (AP) — A plan to provide housing and substance-abuse treatment for homeless veterans in the southwestern Ohio city of Middletown has been derailed by a planning commission vote against it, with panel members saying the neighborhood might not be the best fit for the men and that the home was too close to other shelters.

John Porter, the homeowner, said Friday that he's exploring options to appeal the Middletown panel's unanimous decision against allowing the veterans to stay in the house.

Porter and Dayton-based Holt Street Miracle Center had paired up to house three to five homeless veterans as they're treated for alcohol and substance abuse, but needed the city's approval.

At a commission meeting Wednesday, several neighbors of the proposed veterans home spoke out against the proposal, saying they didn't want the veterans in the neighborhood because they could add to an already rife drug problem in the area.

"I deal with people every day who are on heroin, all kinds of drug use," neighbor Barbara Arnold told the commission before the vote, according to The Dayton Daily News. "If this goes through, honestly, I would have to move. I wouldn't stay there. I don't feel it's the right thing to do."

Supporters of the home say the veterans just need a place to pick themselves back up and are required to undergo random drug testing in order to stay in the program.

"It just tears my heart out," said Willa Fletcher, founder of Holt Street Miracle Center, which provides housing and treatment for veterans. "They just need somebody to love them, care for them and let them know they can make it. ... As much as those boys go over there and fight for America and keep the enemy out of our country, they just have nowhere to go."

Porter, a Vietnam veteran himself, said it bothers him that neighbors didn't want homeless veterans living in the house.

"It really hurts," he said. "These guys are fighting against it (drug and alcohol addiction). They're wanting to rehab and get back to regular life."

While Porter said he wants to fight the commission's decision, Fletcher said her group may just look for a different Middletown home.

Marty Kohler, Middletown's planning director, said the primary reason the commission rejected the veterans home is a city ordinance that requires group homes be no closer than 500 feet from each other; the proposed home is within 300 feet of two other group homes.

But another reason commissioners turned it down was the prevalence of drugs in the neighborhood, Kohler said.

"The thought was this isn't the healthiest environment to put people in if there's drug trafficking going on around them," he said, but added that the Holt Street Miracle Center never mentioned that they require random drug testing.

Also, Kohler said that in 2005, Middletown's city council adopted a policy preventing further low-income housing from being built in the city because there already was a "huge supply" and the struggling city wants to try to attract more businesses and middle- and higher-income classes.

"Obviously if you further concentrate more poverty in a high-poverty area you're going to force what we're seeing in the region: more polarization. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer," he said. "And Middletown is becoming that pocket of extreme poverty, and City Council wants to prevent that.

"We would like to become a more diverse and balanced community," he said.

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