CLINTON — The Victory Center staff held an informational meeting on Saturday morning to explain the mission of the Victory Center Ministries.

The meeting was held in an effort to allay concerns expressed by residents living in the area of the recently proposed new Victory Center facility, to be located at 505 Ninth Ave. South. The meeting was scheduled after Clinton City Hall received a petition signed by 132 residents voicing their opposition to the facility being located in their neighborhood.

Pastor Ray Giminez, CEO of Victory Center Ministries, thanked the audience for coming and began the meeting by introducing the center’s staff and the board of directors. He explained the history of the rescue mission, noting it began as an emergency homeless shelter. Giminez said the rescue mission is a faith-based program.

“We consider this Victory Center — God’s house,” Giminez said. “Because it’s a Bible-based, faith-based program, we have a lot of spiritual programs in place that truly have affected lives in a dramatic way,” he said.

Giminez explained the center has a meals program that offers breakfast, lunch or dinner for anyone who comes through the doors and serves an average of 50,000 meals per year. He added the ministry operates a shelter program that houses approximately 300 people every year, and a volunteer program that averages 5,000 hours per year. He said the free clinic sponsored by the Victory Center sees approximately 700 to 800 people per year.

He said the original plan was to expand the existing facility or build a new building on the same site, but those options were cost prohibitive and would displace the center’s residents for one year. Giminez said that after looking at various potential facilities and finding other options lacking, staff found the proposed location. He said the facility is “probably the most economic facility.” Giminez remarked that Father Tony Herold called the Victory Center move into the former Prince of Peace Catholic Parish office “a perfect fit” and Giminez noted that he is excited about the relationship with the Catholic church.

Giminez commented that he understands the neighboring residents’ concerns and said if he was a resident in the neighborhood, he too would have questions. He explained that the Victory Center does not allow drug addicts, alcoholics or sex offenders on the premises. He said the residents are regularly screened and tested and if removed from the facility, they are also removed from the area.

“This is not a flop-house. This is a ministry with tremendous programs,” Giminez assured the audience. He then read a Scripture, from Deuteronomy 15:11, saying it is the center’s mission.

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land,” he quoted. Giminez added, “And that’s what we’re about. We’re about taking care of the poor and the needy in our area.”

Concerned neighborhood resident John Sullivan asked how often the residents are tested for drugs and have their background screened. Pastor Rob Miltenberger responded that periodically, residents are tested for drugs and alcohol on a random basis and are tested immediately if there is any suspicion of substance abuse. He said the residents are screened immediately before being allowed to reside at the facility. Sullivan asked what the average stay is for a resident and Miltenberger said the residents tend to stay for a couple months because they are changing their life. He added the residents are required to obtain employment.

Sullivan issued a concern that residents would be able to see inside of neighboring homes from the facility’s windows. Miltenberger said new windows would be installed in the facility and the staff would not have a problem with installing a “frost” on all of the windows if the neighbors so desire.

Sullivan then asked questions about the deteriorating privacy fence on the facility and where staff members would be parking. Miltenberger said a new privacy fence would be erected and staff would park in the lot across the street.

Bridget Simmonds introduced herself and noted she was the one who started the petition against the new location. She thinks the work of the Victory Center is wonderful and commended the center, but said she felt the center moving into a residential neighborhood was like playing Russian roulette.

She said while she is not condemning anyone, it is difficult to track people, such as sex offenders, who would be coming through the “revolving” doors. Miltenberger said there already are sex offenders living in that neighborhood and noted that while there is no guarantee of safety, the center is staffed 24 hours per day. He reiterated that sex offenders are not allowed at the center and later added that the center closes its doors at 10 p.m.

Simmonds said as a mother, she is trying to protect her children and said that with the center moving in, it wouldn’t be their neighborhood anymore. She expressed a concern about not knowing who would be living at the center and Mary Ann Giminez, wife of Pastor Ray, invited her to come and meet the residents. Sullivan asked if they would want this center in their neighborhood and Miltenberger replied, “I would never put anything in your neighborhood that I wouldn’t have in mine.”

Center resident Brian Stevens said that without the center, he would not have a job and a place to stay, and with the center’s help he is getting his life back together.

“This place has done wonders for my life,” Stevens said.

“But you’re one,” said Simmonds.

She said that of the estimated 62 potential residents of the center, it “only takes one” for something bad to happen and she is worried about the safety of her children and the children of the neighborhood. Miltenberger said there is a misconception and stereotype that the homeless are lecherous and pedophiles and remarked that the center has a 20-year history of successful “ones” who have turned their lives around.

At the end of the meeting, Pastor Ray Giminez thanked the audience for coming, saying he was glad the issue could be addressed. Following the discussion, Sullivan said he now understood more about the Victory Center and his wife, Mary Ann, said she felt better about the issue after having come to the meeting.

Simmonds said her feelings hadn’t changed much and reiterated that she thinks what the center does is wonderful. She said the problem is that there will be too many people and “too many unknowns.”

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