Shelter planners say project still a go

Shelter planners say project still a go

written by Joseph Kohut // The Times-Tribune

Nearby businesses oppose Keystone Mission site; the matter is headed to court. 

Weeks after ceremoniously breaking ground in Luzerne County on a center aimed to bettering the lives of the homeless, Scranton’s Keystone Mission said they’re waiting for their day in court to open one such shelter in Scranton’s South Side. 

Justin Behrens, CEO and executive director of the Olive Street nonprofit, said they still intend to challenge the October zoning appeal that seeks to block the conversion of 215 Hickory St. into a 60-bed “transformation center”— an overnight shelter and day center that seeks to teach clients skills that could lift them off the street. 

“We’re still continuing the fight,” Behrens said. 

On Oct. 13, three businesses near the proposed Hickory Street shelter appealed the Scranton Zoning Board’s Sept. 2 approval of a variance that would allow Keystone Mission to open. Listed as plaintiffs were Sharon Capalongo, owner of Sharon’s Place, 411 S. Washington Ave., Joseph Pehanic of JP’s Garage, 245 Hickory St., and Sean Murphy, president of Pella Northeastern Pennsylvania and Central New York, 230 Hickory St.

The businesses appealed the zoning board’s decision because they argue Keystone Mission’s proposal failed to meet its burden for approval and would “negatively impact” retail businesses in the area. 

No court date has been scheduled, according to the appeal’s docket. Attorney William Jones, who is representing the three plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment. The appeal named the zoning board as the lone defendant. Attorney Daniel Penetar, the zoning board’s solicitor, said the case would be assigned to a judge, who would set a hearing date and dates for then briefs are due. 

“We’re not at that point yet,” he said. 

The board approved Keystone Mission

s request in a 3–2 vote on two conditions — no more than 60 residents, with security staff patrolling both inside and outside the building on all shifts, according to court filings/ Those who spoke at the meeting said they worried about parking, security and how a shelter may affect business, the filing shows. 

As a “transformation center,” Keystone Mission’s proposal is more than a shelter. Behrens said. They would teach their clients life skills — such as how to budget money, how to do well in an interview, and how to take care of themselves. Behrens described a multistage program that includes mental health and substance abuse therapy if needed, as well as job training that could help clients self-stain in the future. 

Before opening, Behrens said they put money into the building to improve it, “so it looks like a place people like to live.”

“We’re not here to make the area look bad,” he said. “We’re here to make it look better.”

The Hickory Street plan follows an earlier attempt by Keystone Mission to convert a building in the 500 block of Wyoming Avenue into a 50-bed shelter, which was also met with resistance from local businesses. In 2019, Keystone Mission received zoning approval for the Wyoming Avenue project but dropped the attempt after they faced a court challenge. 

The proposal would be similar to their Wilkes-Barre facility tentatively slated to open in January. On May 13, Keystone Mission held a groundbreaking ceremony at 290 Parkview Circle for the new 15-bed transformation center. In describing it at the ceremony, Behrens said clients could “lay the groundwork for radical changes in their lives for the better.” 

“It’s a permanent housing location for the homeless,” he said. “The Wilkes-Barre location is what we want in Scranton.” 


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