Fight Over Old Town Transitional Housing Facility For Combat Veterans Continues

Residents of Old Town, veterans, and parents with young children, more than 50 in all, converged on the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest for the monthly meeting of the Uptown Planners. They were there to give input on whether a transitional housing facility for combat veterans should be built across the street from a K-8 charter school on San Diego Avenue in Old Town.

The proposal from the Veterans Affairs Department has divided the community.

Officials from San Diego's Veterans Affairs health office say the 40-bed "Aspire Center" will focus on the needs of recent veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from PTSD or readjusting to life after mild to moderate Traumatic Brain Injuries. According to health officials from the Veterans Affairs office, physical, occupational, and other therapy will be provided on site, as will some substance abuse counseling.

But nearby residents and administrators from Old Town Academy say it is a poor location, that it violates city zoning laws and is too close to residential neighborhoods and to schoolchildren who may be put in harms way if any violence were to spill over from the center.

At recent community meetings, the Mission Hills Town Council, Five Points/Middletown Business Association, and Old Town Chamber of Commerce have all come out in opposition to the center.

Shortly after the hearing began, the discussion shifted from zoning violations or planning issues to concerns about public safety.

Christopher Celentino, Mission Hills resident and co-founder of Old Town Academy, urged the community planners to reject the project. Celentino stated that 196 parents at his school signed petitions stating that they would withdraw their children from the academy if the Aspire Center opened. If that were to happen, the school would likely be forced to close.

"This is an open facility across the street from children who...if there is a problem will not have an opportunity to defend themselves. It is not the right location, across the street from an elementary school," Celentino told the planners.

Later during public comment, Jeff Stinchcomb, a former veteran who spent time at a similar facility in Menlo Park addressed the group.

"You may nix this because of some code violation, some detail in the law but don't nix this out of fear. The men that served with me would give their lives for every child in this place so to say that I am a danger, not true."

After some discussion, Uptown planning group members decided to continue the item for 30-days to give them a chance to review all environmental documents.


Many older veterans hoped and expected that this time around veterans would not be stigmatized and shunned. This opposition makes it clear that many people are still in the same frame of mind as prevailed in the 1960's and 1970's, namely that veterans are not to be trusted and are dangerous. I'd only hope that these opponents would look in the mirror and see not only themselves but their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces looking back. These veterans could be any of those. Instead of gratitude toward those who served, these misguided folks express hostility and alarm. That is indeed sad.

I also take strong exception to the author's description of the facility as "military" housing. It is for former military folks, those returning to civilian life. The headline picks up this error and magnifies it. It is veterans housing, plain and simple. It is too bad that veterans do not pack these meetings and express their support.

Visduh, I apologize for what you feel is a poor description but that is how it appeared on the agenda. The story has been changed.

Thanks for the rapid response and correction.

Visduh, you couldn't have expressed it better. The adults are serving as terrible role models for the kids. Rejection of this well-planned VA facility goes beyond caution. It makes the school's social interaction programs seem pretty hypocritical. These programs are presented with much fanfare on the school's webpage; the kids participate to instill the importance of caring for others (e.g., Wounded Warrior program, especially addressing traumatic brain injury). You can't teach kids to love and care for their fellow humans in social care programs, while, in everyday life, your behavior teaches what President Snow said in The Hunger Games: "There are lots of underdogs, but I think if you could see them you would not root for them..."

The VA has published myriad documents detailing how carefully the mainly Iraq and Afghanistan vets will be selected. For example, vets must: Be honorably discharged and eligible for VA health care services; Be mentally and medically stable; Be motivated to participate in all treatment components focused on recovery and empowerment; And be compliant with all program rules (breaking rules can lead to consequences up to and including discharge from the program).

These veterans, all of whom will be known to the VA and fully engaged in the facility's services, won't need to be hidden from view or sequestered far away from children. The school children are in far more danger from an anonymous and huge population of residents in the high-density condo/rental units surrounding the school. There is a bar up the street, too.

A hint at what the real grievance may be: A UT story earlier this year quoted some of the facility's opponents' complaints about the previous use of the facility, the Thomas Jefferson Law School library: "Neighbors say there's leftover bitterness from a longterm clash with the law school over parking. Some say the law school's conditional use permit, the same kind of permit the VA would need, didn't stop Thomas Jefferson students from clogging residential streets with their cars." The VA use would involve far fewer cars, and the 93 underground parking spaces would probably be more than adequate. Many of the wounded warriors may not ever be driving (and parking) again, or, being less affluent than law students, won't have cars.

It surprises me that so many people are missing the point here. There is no mental health screening done prior to entry into our armed forces. The mental health profile of our military men and women is the same as what you'd find in the general population. If someone struggled with undiagnosed depression, anxiety, addictive behavior or social deviancy (i.e. predatory behavior) before enlisting, there is nothing in the military training that would treat, cure or change that. Obviously, the guys you read about in the news who are attacking innocent civilians for the sport of it didn't learn that behavior in the Marines -- they had issues long before they enlisted. Just as the military isn't causing deviant behavior, it also isn't treating it. As a result, there is every reason to expect that a percentage of the patients admitted for care in the proposed facility - however small - will have undiagnosed problems that the facility isn't equipped to diagnose or treat. This has nothing to do with the facility being run by the VA... the same concern would exist if the facility treated civilians. This underlies the whole concern about the location. Just as there are smoke-free zones around city parks to protect children from potential harm, there should be ordinances providing a safety zone around schools that would prevent any type of mental health facility from being located in close proximity. That's not a statement that comes from ignorance - I've got a long family history of mental illness and have more first-hand experience than I care to have. This is simply rational thinking. Clearly, our society needs to place a priority on providing medical/mental health for all, educating our children, and supporting/retraining our veterans. Just not all in the same place.

You claim that there is no mental health screening for those entering the armed forces, and strictly speaking that may be true. But the uniformed services, which a long time ago would accept the dregs of society, now are careful and most prefer that any enlistee have a high school diploma and clean criminal records. The training system also weeds out many who cannot cope with stresses, and those whose pathologies make them impossible to train.

These people ARE civilians now. They have been honorably discharged and need more time and help to transition to fully functioning civilians. You are stigmatizing these veterans after they gave so much in our service. Please look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Could that be me?" The answer is yes, and you are making a choice of turning your back on people who have committed no crime and who show no signs of being a threat to the safety of anyone. They just need some time and help, and they deserve it.

Rational Adult: Your points are very well made and you are obviously caring and perceptive. Still, please do read the publications about the proposed Aspire center. As I previously commented, the participants in this recovery center will be thoroughly screened. They will be a known entity, through and through. The Aspire vets will be closely involved with staff and much of their time and activity will be monitored. I'll repeat the program criteria. Aspire Program vets must:

Be honorably discharged and eligible for VA health care services. Be mentally and medically stable. Be motivated to participate in all treatment components focused on recovery and empowerment. Be compliant with all program rules (breaking rules can lead to consequences up to and including discharge from the program).

If the entire population of thousands of residents and passers-by in the neighborhood were subjected to the same documentation and screening as the handful of Aspire veterans will be, statistically some would cause parents to be concerned about their proximity to kids. Predators and people suffering mental illness, undiagnosed and diagnosed, are everywhere. Compared to the unknown population in the community at large, the Aspire vets shouldbe a very safe group.

As for smoke-free zones...I'd be more concerned about my kid spending her day right next to a major freeway, with all of the emissions.

I have a question for San Diego: Why Veteran status makes us MORE likely to be child predators??

80.6% of Active Duty Military have children themselves. VA.gov/vetdata. The way I see it, that makes us 100% more likely to run into a burning building to save your kids. And you.

These Veterans are carefully screened and monitored throughout their program. Shouldn't these parents, and particularly the school owner, have been more concerned that 51 Registered Sex Offenders living just in that Zip Code? Or just the 21 Registered Sex Offenders just in the 2-mile radius around the school? 17 are convicted of offenses against children and 3 are multiple offenders. meganslaw.ca.gov.

That, and the short 23-minute drive to Tijuana, Mexico, the busiest border to Mexico, which is the top city for human trafficking of children in North America (http://www.csjorange.org/images/resources/The%20Exploitation%20of%20Children.pdf), should scare the hell out of parents already. Not the wounded heroes getting better across the street.

What is it, exactly, people think we have been fighting for? The business owner stomping his feet because of a past parking dispute? Or the Upright Mommy Brigade's next power struggle? Charter schools are businesses, remember. And out of 196 parents, only one or two will follow through after their initial hissy fit, I guarantee, and move on to their next control tactic.

No, it's our families we've fought for. We were all young men and women one day who literally signed our lives away to defend a nation we love and honor. We are true citizens who have built lives and grown families and want to defend our children from tyranny reaching our shores. And these Veterans--people braver than you--are coming home, in particular, with PTSD (that means they have feelings and consciences) and TBIs (that means they were physically injured in the brain/spinal cord by a freaking BOMB). Neither of which cause pedophilia. Neither do motor vehicle accidents or gun shot wounds or mixing cherry Pez and root beer.

They causes pain. And these men and women want to get better so they can go back to their families less broken.

Get a life, San Diego. Better yet, go join the military and see what it's like to actually earn your life and your freedom.

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