‘Pressure cooker:’ Neighbors speak out against group home doubling its residents

Kara Gloeckner, whose dog, Soleil, accompanies her to work at the group home, says removing administrative offices and adding bedrooms to the house on Park Street will provide a more home-like atmosphere for the girls living there. Photo by Eze Amos Kara Gloeckner, whose dog, Soleil, accompanies her to work at the group home, says removing administrative offices and adding bedrooms to the house on Park Street will provide a more home-like atmosphere for the girls living there. Photo by Eze Amos

The owner of a group home on Park Street is requesting a special-use permit to double the house’s occupancy from eight to 16 girls, but some neighbors, citing the 51 times police have already been called to the house this year, don’t think it’s a good idea.

“Putting 16 troubled girls into one house is like a pressure cooker,” says Jackie Lichtman, who has lived next door to what’s known as the Structured Therapeutic Adolescent Residential Service house for nearly 20 years. For about 15 of those, the residence has existed as a home for at-risk girls between the ages of 13 and 19.

“With eight girls there, it’s not really a problem,” says Lichtman.

The home, built in 1984, was originally designed to house 16 mentally disabled adults, says owner Kara Gloeckner, who interned there at that time. Allowing that many girls to live there would be fulfilling its intended use, she adds, and because the space at 517 Park St. also houses administrative offices, replacing them with bedrooms would make for a more home-like environment and alleviate parking stress.

Almost as soon as she bought the house in 2003, Gloeckner was denied a request for the same special-use permit, with lack of parking being a main issue.

Though Lichtman says she’s counted as many as 15 spots taken by STARS staff, social workers, tutors and visitors, Gloeckner says the seven staff cars parked in the lot would be reduced to four, with four on-street permits remaining the same.

At an October 12 public input meeting, a requirement for those applying for a special-use permit, Gloeckner addressed safety concerns.

“I think having been your neighbor for 15 years, that the fears of what bad kids moving into the community was going to do—I think we’ve lived in the neighborhood long enough to see that those things didn’t happen,” she said, adding that 41 of the 51 police calls this year were due to missing children.

Only five calls were the result of an incident or disorder within the residence, where at least two STARS staffers are stationed at the house 24 hours a day, and none involved residents and the surrounding community, such as theft or break-ins.

“Anybody still concerned about the safety of the community?” Gloeckner asked the crowded room. Several hands shot up as one voice squeaked, “Everybody.”

Other community members accused her of wanting to profit from serving more kids.

“We’re not trying to expand the business and we’re not bringing more kids to Charlottesville to serve,” says Gloeckner, because her team already serves 16 girls in the community, but they’re currently divided into two homes.

Though Gloeckner says her residents are regularly seen by physical and mental health physicians, some community members worry about how well the kids are cared for.

Will Cooke, a choir teacher at Charlottesville High School, has interacted with many STARS students in his 11 years at CHS.

“They’re kids who are already so massively traumatized because they’re removed from their families,” he says. “Without exception, all the kids who live there have all told the same story, about how they are further traumatized and are not, in any way, given anything therapeutic. It’s just a different kid telling it.”

Adds Cooke, “Upping that number is one of the worst possible things that could ever happen to the children in that house.”

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