Decision on group home appeal set for Tuesday

Published 9:54 pm Monday, March 16, 2009

City leaders will decide Tuesday whether or not a boys group home can stay open.

The Columbiana City Council held a special meeting Monday night to discuss the future of Fortress Group Home. The home opened in late 2007 and houses boys 14 to 19 who are wards of the state.

The council voted Feb. 17 not to grant a business license to the home on Mildred Street, citing numerous complaints from residents, problems at local schools and run-ins with police officers.

Monday’s meeting allowed those who support and oppose the Fortress to speak their minds. The home’s staff and boys asked the council for another chance.

“We can do good. We can do better. When people look at us, they just see bad,” said DeMarte Joiner, 18. “Since I’ve been here, I grown to love Columbiana. If y’all could give us a chance to show we love and respect the neighborhood, we’d do better.”

The home’s Executive Director Larry Dancy admitted his business didn’t get off on the best foot.

“Fortress moved to Columbiana with hopes of teaching family values to a group of young men, not destroying what we found so appealing,” Dancy said. “We feel like we shut the door on the city before the city could open it for us.”

If allowed to stay open, Dancy promised to clean up the home’s image.

He said the Fortress is now a registered home school for boys not suited for public school. The home also has new management, more supervision and a stricter screening process, Dancy said.

But Mayor Allan Lowe pointed out a history of problems at Fortress.

“Several instances have occurred there that have drawn concern from the community,” Lowe said.

Police answered 78 calls last year concerning boys from Fortress, according to Police Chief Lamar Vick. The calls ranged from crimes like theft and burglary to runaways.

Teens at Fortress have also had discipline problems in school, Lowe said.

The mayor also outlined positives for Fortress, including less trouble at school the past two months. Several Columbiana churches have pledged to work with the home to mentor to the boys, Lowe said.

The council will again consider the home’s business license during its regular meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.

Fortress Inc. also operates group homes in Bibb and Marshall counties.