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Transition house met with neighborhood opposition

DHS contractor, Iron Tribe, hits wall in its effort to establish transitional housing


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Harold Bear Cubbedge, executive director of Iron Tribe, speaks to community members about the organization's plans to open a home in Scappoose to offer stability to individuals recovering from addition and poverty. Scappoose residents concerned about a transition house slated to open on NW Maria Lane, near Veterans Park, crammed into the Scappoose City Council chambers Monday, April 21, to air their concerns.

Representatives from Iron Tribe, the nonprofit running the transition home, also attended the meeting to quell the worries of the home’s neighbors, but were met with continual opposition.

Harold “Bear” Cubbedge, executive director of Iron Tribe, said the level of community resistance Monday rivaled any he’d seen in the organization’s five years of opening 16 similar homes.

Iron Tribe is a nonprofit recovery and wellness organization aimed at rehabilitating men, women and children who are recovering from drug addiction and poverty. The organization’s initial mission was to help transition people out of correctional facilities to become productive members of society, Cubbedge said. But that mission has changed, he added.

“Today we find our work in unifying families, many of which have never been in trouble. Some folks are just struggling with poverty,” he said. “It’s not a halfway house. It’s a family wellness home.”

Iron Tribe is leasing the Scappoose home, located in Columbia River View Estates — a newer, affluent residential community by Scappoose standards — through a contract with the Department of Human Services. The home will not house people who have recently been released from a correctional facility, Cubbedge said.

Cubbedge said Iron Tribe’s family wellness home in Scappoose will likely be occupied by those who are working to gain custody of their children through overcoming addiction and achieving stable housing. Iron Tribe takes no sex offenders into its homes and performs multiple interviews to screen applicants, he said. Housing applicants must go through two interviews with the Oregon Department of Human Services, a background check and an interview with Iron Tribe.

Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove said he has seen a “tremendous” increase of drug abuse among residents in his 18 years serving the county. Grove said one of the big impediments to reuniting recovering drug addicts with their families is housing.

“This was a solution that DHS came up with I’ve had a few interactions with the folks from Iron Tribe and they seem to be great people,” Grove said. “I understand that they’re doing quite well around the state.”

Grove continued, “These individuals, I suspect, are not going to take the chance of breaking any rules and losing their housing once they’ve had their kids returned to them. That’s the first big component to recovery, is when they get their kids back and start cherishing that.”

Opponents to the family wellness home said they were concerned about a potential decrease in surrounding property value and argued Iron Tribe was not being transparent in its dealings.

“I think it’s unethical and I think it’s immoral to victimize a community that is made up of these hard-working, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens of this community in an effort to save a few individuals that have no commitment or vested interest in this community,” said Pat Anderson of Scappoose.

Lina Yee, a resident of the neighborhood near Veterans Park, said she was unsure whether the location was a well thought-out choice for Iron Tribe, noting that Scappoose doesn’t have many jobs to offer and lacks a good transportation and social services system.

Yee said that during her many years practicing as an optometrist in Scappoose she has seen many foster children and families affected by drug and alcohol addiction.

“I can feel for them, and I can empathize for them, and in my own family I’ve had people who’ve dealt with those issues themselves, but when do we get to stand up for people who are doing things the right way?” she said.by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Harold Bear Cubbedge, executive director of Iron Tribe, said if the organization's plans for using a home on NW Maria Lane in Scappoose fall through, the group is still committed to having a presence in Columbia County.

A major issue for opponents to the home was that they claimed they weren’t given any notice of the Iron Tribe presence in the neighborhood until this month.

“I’m a little baffled,” said Scappoose City Councilor Mark Reed. “They sit up here and said that they had been working for at least five years. They have got other places in other communities established. They cannot sit here and tell me that they have planted one of these houses in a residential area and not gotten complaints from the neighbors. What is their process for following this? They moved in and then came to us after the fact.”

Others noted the property may not be zoned to house multiple families and that Iron Tribe may have not gone through proper governmental channels, such as acquiring a business license, if needed, as well as a construction permit for what some suspect is an interior remodeling project.

Cubbedge told the Spotlight Tuesday he felt Iron Tribe was doing its due diligence throughout the process, noting he has reached out to neighbors to set up neighborhood meetings.

“We’re really trying to do everything in a good way,” he said. “Group living is allowed in all cities. I’m trying to get that information from [the city] because every city is different.”

One community member asked Grove during the meeting if he supported the family wellness home.

“I am in favor of a house in this county where families can be reunited,” Grove responded from the crowd.

When asked by an audience member if he would like to have it located next to his house, Grove replied. “Yes, I would.”

Cubbedge said 10 to 14 men, women and children could inhabit the house at any given time. The residents could stay anywhere from 6 months to a year, he said, noting those acquiring services typically leave the homes once they’ve achieved stability. Last year, the organization helped reunite 45 children in Clackamas County with their families, he said.

In a letter to state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, from Lee Coleman, DHS district director for Tillamook, Clatsop, and Columbia counties, Coleman notes the home will house respectful inhabitants meeting strict standards.

“These are honorable people who are trying to get their lives back on track and deserve respect and will be required to meet stringent standards and rules in order to live at this house,” Coleman wrote.

While Cubbedge said the feeling among Iron Tribe was “a little sad” after the meeting, he added the group is still encouraged and committed to making a difference in Columbia County.