Garden District, troubled Camelia Group Home reach deal

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK --  Garden District neighbors had pushed for the closure of this group home for juveniles at 505 Camelia Ave. due to a series of problems that  led to dozens of calls to police. It will either be sold or used to house disabled women under a memorandum of understanding signed this week.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Garden District neighbors had pushed for the closure of this group home for juveniles at 505 Camelia Ave. due to a series of problems that led to dozens of calls to police. It will either be sold or used to house disabled women under a memorandum of understanding signed this week.

The owner of the troubled Camelia Group Home has pledged to sell the property or no longer use it to house juvenile delinquents, quelling concerns of some Garden District residents worried about criminal activity at the home.

The owner, Collis B. Temple Jr., signed a memorandum of understanding with the Garden District Civic Association, in which the association has agreed not to pursue action against the home so long as the terms of the agreement are met.

Ray Mack, the president of the association, said concerned residents worked with local elected officials to reach the agreement.

“It’s a step that we have never been at before,” Mack said. “It gives me renewed confidence in our democratic way of life.”

If Temple does not sell the home, located at 505 Camelia Ave., the understanding stipulates that he will use the home to house “disabled women.” The facility also must be managed in accordance with state guidelines under the terms of the agreement.

“The Garden District has been a very good neighbor to the guys that lived there,” Temple said. “We want to take our neighbors in full consideration.”

The agreement came as Garden District residents had renewed a push to close the group home, which has been empty since four residents broke into an elderly woman’s home in March and stole jewelry and a loaded handgun. According to a police report, a manager at the group home told the authorities that one of her colleagues had been failing to supervise the juveniles.

Temple, the LSU basketball legend who has founded several group homes through Harmony Center, Inc., said he didn’t have any concerns about supervision at the home due to staffing limitations.

But the March burglary had distressed many Garden District residents and reminded them of a similar incident in March 2007, in which three residents of the group home were booked in an attempted burglary at a nearby home on Wisteria Street.

Police had been called more than 50 times to the residence since January 2011, including 15 times in March before the residents vacated the premises. Though some of those calls concerned fights or vandalism, Temple said, it’s not unusual for police to be called to a group home.

He said many of those calls are made after a child leaves a facility unaccompanied.

Mary Norckauer, the elderly woman whose home was broken into in March, said she will take a wait-and-see approach to the memorandum of understanding.

“You could never predict who would buy the home or how they would use it,” she said of a potential sale.