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Calvary Refuge Center to benefit from fort's closing

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Thanks to an agreement signed by several parties involved in the redevelopment of Fort Gillem, Cavalry Refuge Center -- one of the county's oldest emergency homeless shelters for families -- will be able to expand its services to children of all ages.

In a legally-binding agreement signed Wednesday by the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority, Clayton County Community Services (CCCS), and Calvary Refuge Center, the redevelopment authority will build Calvary Refuge Center an additional facility as a part of the Fort Gillem BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) plans. The new center, which will be built adjacent to the center's current location on Thurman Road, will accommodate 11-17-year-old boys with their mothers and siblings -- a service currently unavailable at the center.

"If you called me right now, and you said I have a son who is 11 years old, and it is just mom and the 11-year-old and other children, I would have to say that I can't accommodate you," said Tawana Tarno, executive director of Calvary Refuge Center. Because of the close-quarters living of the shelter, men presently stay in a separate facility and male children over the age of 11 are not allowed to stay in the center.

"It's the male child right now that we don't have the space for," said Tarno. She said "it breaks my heart" to have to turn down needy parents with older male children and the new, 62-bed facility will allow the center to provide a "full circle of services."

Fred Bryant, executive director of the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Redevelopment Authority, said one of the requirements of the Army, when closing any base, is that living assistance be provided in some way to the homeless.

"According to the McKinney Act, when you do a base closure, you are required to help the homeless," said Bryant. He said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must approve the city's participation in the base-closing procedures and may look unfavorably on the redevelopment plans, if a homeless component isn't included.

"Something was going to be done about homelessness by either us or the Army," said Bryant. "By us doing it, we stay in the picture."

CCCS will act as the agent through which funds are dispersed to Calvary Refuge Center to build the new facility, which is estimated to cost between $600,000 and $700,000. According to the agreement, construction on the center must begin 12 months after the closure of Fort Gillem, which is scheduled for 2011.

Tommy Holland, chair of the board of directors for Calvary Refuge Center, believes the agreement will further the center's mission of helping people.

"We appreciate the cooperation of Forest Park," said Holland. "Some people look at a homeless shelter as something they don't want in their backyard, but the location is perfect for serving the people."