TACOMA, Wash. - Neighbors in a small Pierce County community are sharing concern and worry over a group housing project that many complain popped up seemingly overnight.
It’s happening in the small town of McKenna where county officials approved permits to convert what once was a nursing care facility into a home that could house as many as 140 people recently released from prison, or others suffering from mental or drug health problems.
Many neighbors told Q13 News the plans came as a surprise.
McKenna is so small it does not have a city government. It’s a tightly knit community where most people know everybody else. When neighbors noticed renewed activity at the old Nisqually Valley Care Center, people began paying closer attention.
“I don’t see that spot as the right spot because of the surroundings,” said Joe Mazzatta.
“It’s right dead center of town,” said Dana Flagg.
The facility might be one of the largest buildings around. According to county permits the new owners to house close to 140 people fresh out of prison or recovering from drug or alcohol addiction almost directly across the street from McKenna Park. Many neighbors felt they had been left in the dark by the new owners, Fresh Start Housing.
“The clientele they’re bringing in, what else is it going to bring?” said Mazzatta.
“We’re having our own public meeting without you,” said Flagg, describing what he says were his attempts to bring Fresh Start Housing together with concerned neighbors. “We’d like you to be there to talk to us about it. It never happened.”
Flagg said he invited the new owners to meet with the community but representatives from Fresh Start never showed up to a scheduled meeting.
“It was a big shock to everybody,” said Flagg. “Especially opening as soon September 1.”
“We’re here to clear the air on some of the misconceptions,” said Tim Timmer from Fresh Start Housing who appeared before a public safety committee special meeting this week.
Timmer told the committee he works for Fresh Start and that he had been invited to the hearing. While Timmer said some of his organization’s other group homes do allow sex offenders, the facility in McKenna likely would not.
The meeting adjourned not long after.
Councilmember Derek Young says the South Sound is in need of more recovery facilities as addiction issues grow through the pandemic.
“It’s really hard to enter recovery if you don’t have basic needs like shelter,” he said. “That’s what these are providing, that’s what we need all over. Is this the right one? I can’t tell you that.”\
But many neighbors in McKenna were left with unanswered questions after a committee hearing earlier this week ended without providing much in terms of answers.
“They’re going to overwhelm our community.” Said Flagg.
Both County Council members Pam Roach and Jim McClune did not return to messages from Q13 News seeking comment about the candidate offer comments about the committee hearing held earlier this week but we didn’t immediately hear back.
Fresh Start Housing already operates across the South Sound in Thurston, Mason, Pierce, King and Grays Harbor counties.
Multiple messages left with the organization were not returned.