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#215: Activists oppose creation of homeless shelter (LITTLE HAITI) (fwd)


Published Sunday, August 8, 1999, in the Miami Herald                   
 Activists oppose creation of homeless shelter
 By HANS MARDY Herald Writer 

 A plan to convert a Little Haiti apartment building into a permanent
homeless shelter was abruptly pulled from the Miami-Dade Commission
agenda last month after Haitian activists launched a petition drive
against the project. ``It's a degradation for our community,'' said
Monsignor Gerard Darbouze, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church,
which is located across the street from the apartment building at 6201
NE Second Ave. Carrfour Corp., a nonprofit organization established in
1993 by the Homeless Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce,
wants to acquire and rehabilitate the apartment building. ``People need
a place to live. We are trying to get people out of the street,'' said
 Maria Suarez Pellerin, Carrfour executive director. Carrfour has
developed homeless facilities in other areas of the county, including
 a transitional affordable housing program in South Dade and a 76-unit
 single-room-occupancy development in Little Havana called Rivermont
House. The latest project -- called the Little Haiti Gateway -- calls
for Carrfour to spend about $1 million to renovate the apartment
building. Pellerin said the site will be fenced with locked gates,
24-hour staff and nighttime security. According to the proposal, the 70
efficiency units and 12 one-bedroom apartments in the building would
house 70 homeless people and 12 other tenants. Last month, Haitian
activists started a petition drive against the project. Over a
 48-hour period, more than 100 residents signed petitions at Radio Pep
La [People's Radio] offices in Little Haiti. Many had learned of the
proposed Gateway plan on Creole radio through WLQY 1320 AM radio
commentator Johnny Cesaire. The project was pulled out from the county
commission agenda to give residents and Carrfour a chance to negotiate.
 ``We have been fighting for economic development of the Northeast
Second Avenue corridor,'' said Viter Juste, former owner of Les Cousins
Books and Records Store at Second Avenue and Northeast 79th Street. ``We
are trying to attract tourism in our neighborhood. We are opposed to
this project because our property values will go down.''
 If approved, the Gateway complex would house single adults who are
referred to the facility by organizations that work with the homeless.
Tenants must either qualify for social service benefits or obtain
employment. They must also be able to live independently and have
sufficient income to meet their living expenses. Rent for the facility
will be 30 percent of the tenant's income. Said Pellerin: ``Our
residents have enough income to live. There will be no crime
 on our property and no drugs are allowed.'' Of the homeless who qualify
for the program, many are disabled and rely on federal Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) checks of about $500 a month. ``What kind of
economic development can we have with residents who earn $500
 monthly?'' asked Juste, who warned other Little Haiti residents to
``open their eyes to this project.'' Part of the project also includes
commercial use of the corner space on the lot and the possibility of
creating additional commercial space on the Northeast 62nd
 Street right-of-way. Pellerin said the Gateway project will bring
construction jobs for area residents. In addition, Carrfour will enroll
28 youth in a construction training program. Participants will be paid
while they are in training, and after the program they will
 likely be able to get jobs in the industry, she said. Pellerin has
spent the past several weeks trying to reach out to the Haitian
 community in an effort to persuade opponents and activists to agree to
the project. ``Our tenants are good people who deserve a place to live.
Most of our residents are professionals,'' she said. ``Among them are
welders, security guards, secretaries, artists, college students and
others.'' Despite Pellerin's efforts, many in Little Haiti are still
skeptical of the project and it's alleged benefits. ``The community
needs more details about this project,'' said Leonie Hermantin,
 executive director of the Haitian American Foundation. ``Carrfour needs
to convince residents in Little Haiti that some of their immediate needs
are going to be resolved through this project.'' Not everyone objects to
the plan. Some Haitians who initially opposed the project
 said they've since reconsidered. ``When I heard about the project, the
way people presented it to me, I opposed,'' said Marc Villain, president
of the proposed Little Haiti/Edison Federal Credit Union. ``But when I
met [Pellerin], we studied the project together without emotion. She
convinced me by answering all my concerns. I support the project
 100 percent. Now the community needs to have a commitment with Carrfour
to make sure everything is delivered as described in the project. It's a
positive development opportunity for the community.'' Pellerin, who
plans to keep meeting with Haitian community leaders, hopes the
 project will be on the commission's Sept. 9 agenda. ``It's a
neighborhood with a lot of good things,'' Pellerin said. ``Haitian
people are very good people; we are trying our best to put our project
in a neighborhood that we like. Nobody spends money in places they do
not like.''