Monday, January 06, 2014

Proposed Drug Rehab Center Plans Meeting Monday

St. Matthews House To Meet With Area Residents At Port LaBelle Inn

LABELLE, FL. -- In a letter to some local Port LaBelle area residents, Saint Matthews House, a drug/alcohol and homeless shelter in Collier county has announced holding a meeting at 6 p.m. at the Port LaBelle Inn on Monday, January 6, 2014 about the non-profit's proposed purchase of the 1980s hotel facility and restaurant.

The large wealthy non-profit organization is planning to house former drug addicts and homeless at the 47-room Port LaBelle Inn. Applications filed with Hendry County indicate Saint Matthews House of Collier county wants to change the property from commercial hotel and agricultural use to religious and institutional use.

Collier County's St. Matthews House has plans to use a reported multi-million dollar grant to buy the 1980s hotel and restaurant. The deal was contracted to close before the end of 2013, but delays in getting Hendry county zoning hearings has put off any eventual sale for now.

Members of area homeowner groups have argued against the proposed use and the non-profit's application with Hendry county for a special exception to allow for housing St. Matthew House clients at the hotel. And some are cautious about speaking, fearful of being accused of discrimination against those with substance abuse issues.

Sam Bradley, a home owner at the Villas At River Run condos across from the Port LaBelle Inn warned in a letter to some interested residents planning to speak at coming meetings and public hearings "If you are compelled to speak and simply refuse to follow the advice of the attorney representing Birchwood Parkway Community, (allowing for a statement by the community representative and a show of hands in support), then when you speak please remember that your speech if laced with words of prejudice and bigotry, (mentioning drug addicts and alcoholics), will play into the hand and plan of St. Matthew's House conversion of the Inn."

Bradley said, " speak and even mention recovering drug addicts and alcoholics as being bad for the community or in any derogatory way, is damning to the community position in opposition and can be used by St. Matthew’s House to argue bigotry and prejudice as the community’s real motive in opposition." (Editor's note: Housing regulations do protect the disabled against discrimination including those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, but generally do not protect from discrimination those convicted of dealing or manufacturing illegal drugs, or those with spotty employment histories or bad credit.)

St. Matthews House runs homeless shelters and drug rehab facilities in Southwest Florida and took over the Immokalee Friendship House in 2008 noticing that many men, women, and children, many them migrants, had no place to sleep at night.

The Immokalee facility and other facilities of St. Matthews House may well be a model for the group's plans in LaBelle. The Immokalee center provides meals, clothing, and shelter to thousands of individuals in Collier County and is nearly always at capacity, quite often including families with young children, says the organization's web site.

St. Matthews House also operates "Justin's Place Recovery" serving homeless suffering from substance abuse and addiction. According to St Matthews House when "residents enter our Structured Recovery Program, they subsequently submit themselves to our rules and regulations, which in turn lead to the self-respect that comes from accountability. They must be sober and make a commitment to very specific standards and rules, and have a willingness to begin the task of rebuilding their lives. Our program offers compassionate, disciplined counseling and guidance to each resident's physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges."

Hearings have been advertised and scheduled by Hendry County in January for public input on the proposed change in use of the hotel.

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