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River Edge opens housing in former blighted area of Macon


Obadiah Lucas talked Wednesday with one of his neighbors at River Edge Behavioral Health Center’s new housing complex, taking in the look of the new homes that have been built for their benefit.

After two decades of substance abuse problems, depression and homelessness, Lucas said the new housing is like a dream come true.

“This place is just beautiful,” he said. “It’s truly a community. I know many of the people here. I can go to my neighbors and borrow a cup of sugar. I just love it.”

Lucas is one of 18 River Edge clients who will benefit from a new 18-unit residential complex on Bowman Street in east Macon called First Neighborhood. Officials cut the ribbon on the complex Wednesday morning.

Shannon Harvey, CEO of River Edge, said not only does the First Neighborhood complex give homes to formerly homeless people with mental illness or disabilities, but it also will help redevelop blighted neighborhoods in Macon and Bibb County.

“This was a blighted property where we’re at now,” she said. “Now, we have one- and two-bedroom homes here.”

Thanks to a Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant of about $1.2 million awarded through the state’s Department of Community Affairs, River Edge was able to build the units with property acquired through the Land Bank Authority.

Harvey noted in her remarks during the ceremony that local builders and materials were used in the construction process, further reinvesting money into the community.

Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who attended Wednesday’s ribbon cutting, said the dual effect the housing project will have on the community is notable.

“It’s really two dimensions,” Edwards said. “It helps us deal with the homeless. But also, this was blighted land. Obviously, this represents a tremendous improvement to the neighborhood. Hopefully, it will lead to further development.”

Indeed, Harvey said River Edge hopes to expand the small community as soon as it can.

“There’s absolutely a waiting list,” she said. “We’re going to continue with construction.”

Harvey said that with additional funding, the facility is hoping to break new ground in 2011.

Cynthia Patterson, program coordinator for permanent supportive housing at River Edge, said 14 of the units already are occupied and the other four soon will be filled. The housing offers people who have completed River Edge’s treatment program the opportunity for more independent living as they seek to reintegrate into the community.

“They’re completely independent -- that’s the ultimate goal,” she said, adding that River Edge officials visit the site regularly to check on the residents’ status and help them with the skills they need.

Lucas said he’s been homeless off and on for the past 20 years, battling substance abuse issues and depression.

Now, having received treatment and a new home, Lucas said he hopes to continue to get his life in order. Thanks to federal subsidies, the rent on each of the units stays low, and residents can stay for as long as they want, provided they maintain their treatment.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to deal with my mental health issues,” he said. “No words can convey how grateful I am. ... For anyone (in the program), it’s a process. You just have to stick to it, and the benefits will come.”

Harvey said that’s River Edge’s goal.

“I believe people with mental illness have the right to the same things everyone else wants -- a house and a job,” she said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.