WILKES-BARRE — Some Parsons residents Thursday pleaded with city council to remove what they said is a halfway house that popped up recently in their quiet neighborhood.
Meanwhile, city council still isn’t completely sure what’s happening in the home on Austin Avenue.
But several council members told residents they intend to find out.
Going on what they mostly heard from neighbors, the residents said they feared for their children and worried about increased crime. They focused their concerns on the parsonage of the Parsons Baptist Church and said as many as four men have been living in the house and have been seen coming and going in a van.
John Gleason, executive director of the Keystone Mission that’s located near the Sherman Hills apartment complex, told council his organization is not associated with the operation. He took issue with a story published Wednesday in the Times Leader linking the mission to the house.
“We know absolutely nothing of this. We are not involved. I don’t know the pastor there. We do have a part-time employee who happens to know the pastor as a personal friend. But we know nothing of this,” Gleason said.
The part-time employee, Joseph Roach, also said it’s not affiliated with the mission and it’s not a treatment center — even though another pastor previously described it as “sober housing.”
“It’s not an organized program,” said Roach, pastor of the Primitive Methodist Church in Nanticoke.
The men living there are from Wilkes-Barre and participate in a Christian leadership training program, Roach said.
The house passed a city health inspection and has been up and running for couple of weeks, Roach said.
But the secrecy of the operation and the lack of public notice about it drew complaints from residents who contacted city councilman Bill Barrett. He brought it up at council’s work session Tuesday night.
Richard Wharton said he lives across the street from the parsonage and worries about the safety of his 11-year-old daughter who plays outside with friends.
“I’m just here to express my displeasure and ask if there’s anything that you could do to make this halfway house go away, move to a different location,” Wharton said.
“I’m asking you the people on city council, can something be done to stop this?” asked Fredrick Voelker. He said he’s heard of another halfway house coming a block away from the existing one.
Mary Maloney said the house would be better suited in a commercially zoned district rather than in a residential neighborhood.
“The most disheartening thing I’ve heard so far from neighbors, and it was a few neighbors, they’re telling me that they’re keeping their firearms close to them instead of having them locked up in a safe environment and that’s sad,” Maloney said.
Council vice chairman Mike Belusko assured residents who filled the council chamber that the issue is being looked into. “Everybody out there, we are on it,” Belusko said.
Councilman Barrett added that he was still trying to find out more about the house and offered to contact Parsons Baptist pastor Wayne Nichol.
“There seems to be a little confusion about who actually owns this particular property and who is actually running this alleged operation in there. We’re not even sure what actually is going on in there,” Barrett said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.