Neighbors angered by teen home occupants Westview Park residents fear trouble by clients

removal of facility sought

October 18, 1995|By LISA RESPERS | LISA RESPERS,SUN STAFF

Catonsville-area residents are battling to rid their neighborhood of a private group home whose teen clients, they say, cause trouble in the area.

Many Westview Park residents are angry because they weren't notified that the home was opening in the cul-de-sac of Pineburn Court in April, and became aware of it only when they began to see boys arriving in arm and leg shackles. Others say the teens are not closely supervised and have been making lewd comments to women and threatening neighbors.

"I feel for the kids, but to be honest I would like to see them get out," Aldina Lorenzoni, who lives next to the home, said at a recent community meeting. "If [those in charge of the home] had been honest with us in the first place, I think this community would have tried to help them."

But Gary Butler, president of Residential Care Network, said the four-bedroom house is licensed by the state to house six teens, and while many of them have committed crimes, counselors provide constant supervision.

"I'd like to see a little more understanding and a certain amount of education on the part of the community," said Mr. Butler, whose company also runs a home in Owings Mills. "We don't want to feel tension and we don't want our neighbors to feel tension."

The boys, from age 13 to 17, have disabilities such as low IQs and autism, Mr. Butler said. Citing state privacy laws, he declined to say what crimes were committed, except to say that none of the boys had committed murder.

When youths are transported from state facilities, it is standard procedure to use shackles until someone takes custody of them, officials said. Jacqueline Lampell, spokeswoman for the Department of Juvenile Justice, added that the agency is changing this policy.

"We want to let the public know that it really was a bureaucratic procedure that we were following for all facilities," she said. "It really didn't reflect the public safety risk of an individual."

But neighbors say the home's teen-age residents have brought trouble to the area.

Joseph Riley, who has lived in the neighborhood for 31 years, said one of the home's residents threatened to steal his car. "I told the police, and all they did was ask me if he threatened me. I think we are being steamrolled."

County Police Officer William Arrington said records from August and September show seven calls for service at the home, and all came from the home. All but one was for a client leaving the home without supervision.

"I have noticed a change in the community since this home

came," he said. "I used to patrol through there and people would be out walking their dogs and things, but not anymore."

It may be difficult for neighbors to force the teens out, though. Under state law, once a private group home is licensed, the hands of zoning officials are virtually tied.

Arnold E. Jablon, county permits director, said, "State law says they are to be treated the same way as a single-family home."

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