Danby, N.Y. — Danby officials turned to a facilitator Wednesday night to help bridge the gap between the Unity House and residents angered over the non-profit’s proposed group home for the town.
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The facilitator started by writing “Our Guidelines” in bright red sharpie on a big yellow note-pad at the front of the room. With feedback from the overflow crowd, the facilitator proceeded to outline the guidelines below: “respect;” “no interruptions;” “honest;” and “listen.”
Still, emotions ran high through much of the meeting, with several residents stressing that they oppose the project because it will house registered Level III sex offenders.
“Does anybody support the idea of the Unity House on Nelson Road?,” one resident said. None of the over 50 members of the Danby Town Hall audience responded in the affirmative.
“I don’t have a problem if they’re all three mentally handicapped. It’s the criminal record that’s got me going,” another man added.
Much of the meeting rehashed previous points discussed at the previous town hall session.
A few of the big ones:
1) That the state’s highest court has said towns can’t regulate this issue;
2) That residents are very concerned about housing sex offenders near a school and in a crowded residential neighborhood.
3) That the Unity House says the residents will be under constant supervision at the group home.
4) That there already exist hundreds of sex offenders in Tompkins County. The Unity House and law enforcement have said that these men will have better supervision.
5) That many residents aren’t convinced by these assurances and think that — even if Danby can’t legally prevent the group home — Unity House shouldn’t move somewhere they’re so clearly unwanted. They also say Unity House should have been more transparent about the group home and that it is a terrible fit for Nelson Road.
Another questioned that emerged again was why the Unity House chose the controversial location.
Liz Smith, executive director of the Unity House, said that the non-profit looked at 42 homes in Tompkins County before choosing the one on Nelson Road. She also said the site fit the non-profit’s needs and price range.
“They’ve served their time; they choose to be in treatment and they choose to live in a situation where they have staff supports,” Smith said of the sex offenders.
Many residents, though, said they remain both angry and hurt. “What residents in the future can live in the Unity House,” one resident said.
Another woman said she walks on Nelson Road every day and for years has not had to think about an experience of sexual abuse. “Having been through therapy more times — you don’t want to know the therapy bills — those things were gone. They’re back,” she said.
“I have children; I have 5 grandchildren … I am not going to walk down Nelson Road with any of them.”
The woman continued, saying that she was “furious about why you chose Danby and didn’t talk to any of us about it … but what I’m really upset about is the recurring nightmares for those of us who have had this happen.”
The woman sat down, and was met by loud applause.