December 24, 2014

A New Homeless Resource Center, a Super Superintendent and Free Dental Care

City Dope

Photo Credit: Blake Aued

Buddy Allen helped broker the deal that gave the Navy school to UGA in exchange for $8 million for homeless services.

Athens-Clarke County government and nonprofit officials broke ground last week on a $6 million resource center for the homeless that's been almost 10 years in the making.

The Athens Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), often referred to as a "one stop shop," will include a clinic, a day shelter with showers, washers, dryers, lockers and a kitchen, financial literacy classes, administrative offices, a daycare and 24 apartments to transition homeless families to permanent housing—"Everything they need to wrap around them so they're better prepared to get into their permanent homes," said Laurie Wilburn-Bailey, clinical director at Advantage Behavioral Health Systems. 

"While we have emergency shelters, we know many homeless families need more time to work and save money to prepare to live independently," Wilburn-Bailey said at the groundbreaking ceremony (where Mayor Nancy Denson insisted that a photo be taken in front of a Caterpillar bulldozer, rather than a competing brand's).

Construction is scheduled to be finished in July.

Located on North Avenue, the complex is next door to other service providers like the state Department of Labor and Department of Family and Children Services, as well as on a bus line and within walking distance of a grocery store.

A coalition of local nonprofits—AIDS Athens, the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Athens Nurses Clinic and Advantage—obtained funding for the project in 2007, when the University of Georgia took over the former Navy Supply Corps School property in Normaltown. On the advice of a panel of retired military officers (the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BRAC), Congress voted in 2005 to move the Navy School to a naval base in Newport, RI. That was a mistake: Costs skyrocketed during and after the move, and the federal Government Accountability Office later blasted the decision, confirming what local BRAC critics had been saying all along. 

But some good came of it. Under federal law, educational institutions can obtain property on former military bases for free, and a Local Redevelopment Authority appointed by then-Mayor Heidi Davison accepted UGA's proposal to convert the base into its Health Sciences Campus. The fix was in almost from the start, of course, but it probably worked out for the best. UGA has done a terrific job so far rehabbing the campus's historic buildings and integrating a once-fenced-off military base back into the community.

Federal law also requires that the transfer of surplus military property benefit the homeless. University administrators claimed they needed the entire campus—left unsaid was whether they wanted homeless people near their students—so as part of the deal, UGA contributed $7.9 million to the ARCH; $1.9 million is reserved for future maintenance. 

"We've been raising funds, talking to donors," said Evan Mills, formerly of the ACC Human and Economic Development Department and now director of business development at Advantage. "All these [UGA] funds, they're only going to build. The agencies are paying for all the operations and services."

Super Super, Part 2: The Clarke County School District announced last week that Philip Lanoue, named Georgia superintendent of the year earlier this month, is one of four finalists for national superintendent of the year, an award that will be handed out at the National Conference on Education in San Diego in late February.

The announcement came on the heels of the state Department of Education releasing 2014 College and Career Readiness Performance Index figures. They weren't pretty. As a CCSD news release pointed out, local middle schools are doing better than last year. But scores at 11 of 14 elementary schools, all three high schools and for the district as a whole are down. The 2014 four-year graduation rates announced in October were down, as well.

A news release announcing Lanoue's nomination for superintendent of the year noted that all the local middle schools and Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools are now International Baccalaureate Authorized World Schools, that student achievement has risen "in the crucial transition years of 5th and 8th grade," the achievement gap for disadvantaged students is closing, and he's formed partnerships with Athens Tech and UGA.

That's all great, and a lot of people who know more about education than I do think Lanoue is the bee's knees. I have to wonder, though, if he's so great, when will we see concrete results? CCSD faces many challenges, such as rampant poverty, but Clarke County is still, statistically, a below-average district in one of the lowest-ranked states for education. One of the four best superintendents in the country ought to be able to change that.

Say Cheese: For people who are struggling financially, health care is often an afterthought, and dental care is an after-after thought. Nuçi's Space is hosting a free dental clinic for musicians from 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8. To be eligible, you must be able to provide documentation that you've worked in the music industry for at least five years or have been credited on at least six commercially released recordings or videos. Appointments are required, and Nuçi's Space Counseling Advocate Lesley Cobbs is urging people to make them ASAP; call 877-626-2748 to do so.

Not a musician? Mercy Health Clinic also offers dental care by appointment only for clients who are uninsured and are below 150 percent of the federal poverty line. Call 706-425-4044 from noon–1 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Prince Avenue: The Georgia Department of Transportation safety audit conducted in late September has almost finished winding its way through the GDOT bureaucracy and should be made public soon. Early reviews are positive—we hear that it includes a number of great recommendations for improving pedestrian safety. Look for more in City Dope next month or check in case Santa brings Prince Avenue advocates a Christmas present. What was that about a week off? Haha, yeah, right.