KANKAKEE — Public comment at governmental board meetings generally last about 10 to 15 minutes, but that wasn’t the case Monday at the Kankakee City Council meeting at the Donald E. Green Public Safety Center.
More than 20 people spoke in the time allotted for public comment, and each person was limited to five minutes. The public comment lasted for more than an hour and 35 minutes, and it was over an ordinance to approve a conditional use permit for a halfway house at 375 N. St. Joseph Ave. in the Marycrest neighborhood on the city’s east side.
Victory House, the halfway house in question, was seeking the permit for its facility on the property of the former St. Teresa Catholic Church, which is now part of St. John Paul II Catholic Church. The house is part of Lost Souls Our Mission or “L’SOM” Ministries, founded in 1999 by Minister Mark Jones, himself a former addict.
Jones was one of 13 people who spoke in favor of the faith-based facility, noting all the positive work Victory House has accomplished for more than 20 years. It was previously located on Greenwood Avenue, but the ministry had to move when ownership of the house changed hands.
Angela Wright, a resident of Marycrest, was one of eight people who spoke against the halfway house.
“I have nothing against the ministry, I just don’t want it in my neighborhood,” Wright said.
Rende Langlois, a St. John Paul II parishioner, said Victory House has the support of the Joliet Diocese, and he asked the council to put the vote on the ordinance on hold so more information could be provided.
The council eventually tabled the vote after the public comment was finished and after it went into executive session for about an hour on a separate matter.
“My understanding is the neighborhood wants to have more discussion, and the church and diocese want to have more communication with the neighborhood residents,” said Mayor Chris Curtis after the meeting. “They requested that with the aldermen, that will allow for more communication. They want to be a good neighbor and make sure it’s alright.”
Most of the residents who spoke out against the halfway house said they were concerned about safety of the neighborhood and how it might affect their property values.
“I’m asking you to vote no,” Wright said.
Some of the people who spoke in favor of Victory House were recovering addicts and were passionate about their reasons.
“Kankakee needs facilities like these,” Angeline Ivery said. “We’re not criminals. We’re not monsters. All we want to do is live. ... This is really needed.”
George Smith said he received help from Victory House, where members stay for a 30-day treatment for addiction.
“I’m grateful for my opportunity,” Smith said. “It turned my life around.”
Smith said he now runs his own barbecue business, Brother George’s BBQ.
“There is accountability in the house,” he said. “We just want to help people who’ve made bad decisions. ... Jesus helped them. ... I’m not ashamed. I’m free. I’m delivered.”
Jimmy Smith, who operates the We Stand For Christ Jesus Ministries, a halfway house for drug-addicted men at 1230 S. East Ave. in Kankakee, also spoke in favor of Victory House. Smith gained the needed conditional use permit for his facility from the council in May.
“We need more places that’s going to give people an opportunity to change a life,” Smith said. “... It gave me an opportunity to know who I was as a man, and it changed my life because I had an opportunity to study God’s word.”
Smith’s conditional use permit granted by the council is for only one year, and it will then be reviewed. Smith said a person who completes the stay at Victory House would then be able to stay at We Stand For Christ Jesus Ministries.