June 6, 2007 – Compassion House has never made it to the Board of Supervisors’ agenda but the county has heard about issues surrounding the shelter for the past two months.
Mark and Yolonda Deane of Deane Outreach Ministry decided to convert their $625,000 home in Brandy Station [Virginia] into a homeless shelter for veterans.
The house on Gravel Road now has five veterans living in it: the maximum allowed by county ordinances for a single family home.
Last month, 43 residents of three Brandy Station neighborhoods signed a petition opposing the house and presented their concerns before the board.
They now plan to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals regarding the county’s decision to treat the shelter as a single family home.
Neighbors argue the shelter violates county zoning ordinances and is inappropriate, being 10 miles from public transportation and services.
Some worry veterans might have mental health conditions, chemical dependencies or criminal histories.
At Tuesday night’s meeting about 30 people attended, this time, to extend their support to Compassion House and the Deanes’ ministry. They urged the board to support it and uphold county laws as is.
Mike Whetston, an Army veteran, referred to Compassion House as a veteran transition facility rather than a shelter.
He noted neighbor concerns are valid but their complaints are not because no laws have been broken. He also reminded the board that the Deanes check their residents’ backgrounds and conduct random drug testing.
The five veterans living in the house attended Tuesday’s meeting. Most are working or looking for work and plan on living in the house until they can raise enough money to move out and start their lives over.
In previous articles, they have said they are only there due to unfortunate circumstances or bad choices.
“But the defamatory claims by neighbors that residents have psychiatric problems are unfounded and border on slander,” Whetston said. “These veterans seek a better life than the one they’re living.”
Cindy Kokernak, of the American Legion, echoed Whetston. “No one ever asked to be homeless,” she said. “These are very proud men. They only took help that was offered to them.”
Yolonda Deane said she wants the community to feel welcome at Compassion House. However, some neighbors have resorted to photographing their property and gawking at the veterans living there, she said.
If neighbors in opposition attended the meeting, none spoke during the hearing.
Chairman John Coates cut off citizens at 7:30 p.m. to conduct county business on the agenda.
Yolonda Deane hopes Compassion House can help end homelessness, if anything, by serving as a kickoff for affordable housing opportunities in Culpeper. She also hopes the community will support the veterans who live there and the mission of Compassion House.
“These are men who served their country,” she said. “They are not addicted to chemicals. They are just men who are disabled or on disability money. I feel like people are closing their hearts and their minds to the veterans.”
Liz Mitchell can be reached at 825-0771 ext. 110 or email@example.com.