Lebanon County is getting a transitional residence to provide housing for up to three former offenders who have been released from prison but have no place to live.

County commissioners on Thursday awarded a contract to Lebanon-based Woodland Contractors Inc. in the amount of $162,217 to make renovations to a property in the 200 block of East Weidman Street. Renovation project costs will be covered by existing state and federal funding, according to Lebanon County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention (MH/ID/EI) administrator Holly Leahy.

Situated on the same property as the MH/ID/EI offices, Leahy said the residence will be for agency clients who have successfully served their prison sentences prior to being placed in the home.      

“For many years there has been a need identified in Lebanon County for housing for individuals with serious mental illness who have a history of incarceration, as landlords are hesitant to rent to this population,” said Leahy.

Leahy added that her agency began researching housing options in August 2020 and identified a small cottage that’s in proximity to their offices that was unoccupied and a potential home for this project.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve worked diligently to further develop a plan and obtain approval to move forward,” she added.   

Leahy told the commissioners there are strict guidelines for applicants who wish to obtain housing there.

“All individuals considered for this transitional housing will have a diagnosis of mental illness and/or an intellectual disability,” said Leahy. “They may also have a history of substance abuse, but would not be considered for residency if actively using any substance. Additionally, we would not accept anyone that would pose a threat to the physical safety of others nor anyone on Megan’s Law.”

Leahy said interested individuals will “go through an extensive vetting and referral process to ensure that they not only meet the diagnostic criteria of serious mental illness but that they also will be a good candidate for the home, compatible with the other residents and safe for our (Lebanon County) community.”

The vetting process will include a review of the person’s history and their current behavior and an interview with the individual, she added. Once approved for residency, each resident will be assigned a case manager who will check-in, initially, on a daily basis by person and via phone, plus “any frequency” on an as-needed basis.

On weekends and holidays, Crisis Intervention Services will be available to assist residents when requested, Leahy noted.   

In addition to having access to a housing support case manager, each resident will receive individualized services and support to assist with their diagnosis of serious mental illness and/or intellectual disability, which will include medication management among a plethora of services tailored to the individual needs of each resident.

Each individual must also be capable of living independently and able to take their prescribed medicines or have access to individualized services that can build upon basic skills possessed by that person.   

Leahy said there will be no security on duty or in the home since each resident is free to move about the community, but noted there will be 10 high-level security cameras strategically situated around the outside of the house that will be constantly monitored by department staff.

“Since this home is literally in our agency backyard, there will be a high level of monitoring and oversight,” she said. “The home will have basic rules including, but not limited to, no overnight guests, no drinking or drugs, no smoking in the home, and a curfew. … As we go through the process, we will further develop and refine those (rules).” 

Each resident will receive their own locked bedroom with all other parts of the home being designated as common areas, including the bathroom, living room, kitchen, and outdoor spaces. As a transitional residence, each individual will be permitted to live there between six months but no longer than one year while they search for a job, pay down their fines and ultimately locate long-term housing.

After seeking approval from the Lebanon City Zoning Board at its April 2022 meeting, Leahy’s agency solicited bids for the project, but said only one was returned to the agency. County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said a total of eight firms received bid proposal packets but confirmed that only one general contractor was interested in bidding for the work. 

“We did have interest from approximately eight bidders that picked up plans and reviewed them but ultimately it appears decided not to submit a bid, so it is unusual to only have one,” said Wolgemuth. “But the process was there, the specs were drawn up and distributed, and it was advertised on PennBid. … That amount of $162,217 is right within the expected ballpark.”

During the city zoning hearing, which occurred prior to the opening of the bid, Wolgemuth said the project would most likely cost between $150,000 and $200,000 for much-needed renovations to the vacant property. So, while the county may have only received one bid, it’s within the expected expenditure range for this project.

In other business related to that agency, the commissioners also approved nine contract amendments (eight for the IH and EI departments and one for mental health) in the amount of $95,887. All are covered via current allocated funding, according to Leahy. 

In other county business – on a day when the county Elections Board was in session for the recount of votes for the Republican nomination for Senate – the commissioners also voted to:

  • Award the annual contract to Camp Hill-based AVANCO for automated case management system services for fiscal year 2022-23 in the amount of $40,335.13 for Children and Youth Services.
  • Grant real estate tax exemptions for four fully disabled veterans.
  • Approve the reappoints of David Eichler and Thomas Harlan to the Governor Dick Board of Directors. 
  • Follow the recommendations of the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Advisory Council to reappoint the following individuals to specific categories of service for three-year terms through mid-February 2025:
    • Michael Fry – education
    • Jennifer Easter – optional
    • Jennifer Shay – health-care professional
    • Michael Weirich – optional
    • William White – optional 
  • Accept the minutes of their May 19 meeting.
  • Approve the treasurer’s report.
  • Implement personnel transactions as presented by the director of human resources. It was noted that the county, which has suffered staffing issues like many employers during the COVID-19 pandemic, hired six individuals while only losing three, a positive gain that county officials hope continues in the future.  

Following the public meeting, the commissioners went into executive session to discuss matters concerning ongoing contract negotiations with unions that represent workers in several county agencies.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...