Counseling Program for Drug Abuse in Limbo

County officials scrambling to find alternate site for program after East Austin neighbors protested possible lease.

Travis County officials are scrambling to find an alternate site for a grant-based drug and substance-abuse counseling program after neighbors protested a possible lease in an East 11th Street building owned by Ebenezer Baptist Church. Commissioners have heard plenty of objections from the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood over the county's proposed lease. Neighborhood leaders say the area is already overburdened with problem neighbors, including nearby homeless shelters. The center in the church's Marvin Griffin Building would have been staffed with seven counselors for day and evening counseling sessions, Community Supervision and Corrections Department Director Geral­dine Nagy told the Commissioners Court. The location would be used for individual and group therapy sessions for low-risk offenders. "The offenses will be felonies or misdemeanors. Anyone with a history of a sexual offense will never go there, nor will individuals who are supervised in the mental-health unit," Nagy said. "That priority population will not be served there, nor will the people who face offenses against persons." That did not satisfy neighbors, which frustrated those with the East Austin Economic Development Corp., which serves as Ebenezer's nonprofit development arm in the community. Local longtime activist General Marshall, who sits on the EAEDC board, said it's ironic Ebenezer's own projects were being used against the church. "[EAEDC Executive Director] Van John­son informed you two weeks ago that the Guadalupe neighborhood association did not support Ebenezer Child Development Center nor the Ebenezer Senior Village ... nor the Robertson Hill Apartments and condos that were mentioned a few minutes ago," Marshall said. "So we were surprised and found it a little odd that our own programs were now being used against us in leasing the Griffin office building." Neighborhood representatives argued the program might be new to Travis County but cited national studies showing substance-abuse offenders often are rearrested. Resident Buck McKinney claimed that if those statistics held true, Travis County's proposal to treat 1,500 people at the counseling center would mean 375 of those participants would eventually be rearrested for committing a violent crime. The counseling services would be funded from a $650,000 state grant, which would provide a permanent centralized location for counseling sessions for the county's probationers. But each week the county fails to find a location, it loses $11,000 of the grant. When commissioners returned from an executive session on the lease, among other items, County Judge Sam Biscoe said Nagy had withdrawn her proposal to lease the space. In making the announcement, Biscoe noted the lease was a thorny issue for the county, a program that would incur opposition in almost any neighborhood.

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