Council doesn’t change mind on group home

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

City leaders upheld their decision Tuesday not to give a business license to a group home for teenage boys.

During a special meeting Monday night, boys and staff from the Fortress Group Home asked the council to overturn their Feb. 17 decision to shut the home down.

However, Councilman Jim Strickland said the city couldn’t support the home and its history of problems.

“I stayed up until 1:30 last night, pacing the floor and doing a lot of soul searching,” said Strickland, whose district includes the home. “But this is a business license decision about a business. There are things they have done wrong from the get-go.”

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 major discipline problems in school, Mayor Allan Lowe said.

Several Fortress boys spoke Monday and were in attendance Tuesday. Many left crying, not certain what their futures hold.

“I don’t know where I’m going,” said Dillan Enoch, 15. “This was the last place for me.”

Fortress social worker Ali Payne said she and the boys are devastated.

“They are having a hard time. These are kids with no families. This town has become their family,” said Payne. “I just wonder how many more times they can be heartbroken.”

Strickland and Lowe both said the decision wasn’t a reflection on the boys but poor staff management.

“This is not about you,” Strickland told the boys. “I am not confident with the Fortress people. I’m not happy with the way they’ve ran the business … Fortress is a business; it’s not a non-profit.”

The group home will consult with lawyers before deciding what to do next, Payne said. Some of the boys could be moved to other Fortress homes in Marshall and Bibb counties, she said.

Lowe said the city won’t rush to close Fortress and will give the company time to make other plans.

“We have no desire to close them prematurely,” Lowe said. “We’ll do whatever we can to help them with the transition.”