September 17, 2014

Elyria
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Center deals with side-effect of offering help — loiterers

LORAIN — Sitting outside the Lorain Family Center on a recent afternoon, city resident Jose Contreras said the center has been a home away from home for him, providing daily meals and produce he can take home.

“Without it, I’d really be messed up,” Contreras said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride since I got out of prison. I haven’t been able to find work.”

Contreras, 27, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 2004 for stabbing his mother’s friend. In 2003, Contreras was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for attempting to abduct a woman while carrying a machete and breaking into a beauty salon.

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Contreras said he takes medication every two weeks to treat paranoid schizophrenia, which he said has kept him from getting hired by employers.

“They don’t know if I’m going to snap at the job,” he said. “I got to take that shot. If I don’t, I’ll go postal.”

But clients like Contreras make people who work around the center at 203 W. Eighth St. nervous. Business people on July 27 met with Catholic Charities officials — the organization that runs the center — and city officials. They complained about a small but vocal group of troublemaking clients who hang around in front of the center and in the center’s parking lot. The business people complained of drinking, drug dealing, fighting, sexual harassment and vulgarity.

The meeting was prompted by a complaint from Don Kwilecki, the owner of D.J. Kwilecki Associates Insurance, which is next door to the center. Kwilecki said Wednesday there was a year delay from when he complained to city officials and when the meeting was held. Kwilecki said loitering remains a problem, but conditions have improved since center officials hired an auxiliary police officer in June to discourage loitering and rowdy behavior.

On the day Contreras was there, he was calm but several people around him were loud and profane exhibiting behavior that business people said discourages customers from patronizing the area.

“You’re loitering,” auxiliary police Sgt. R.J. Dennis told a man lying on his back next to Contreras. “It’s against the law.”

“I’m loitering?” the man responded before moving. “I’m homeless.”

David, center program director, said the center hired the officer to help.

“Hopefully, it shows the community too that we’re serious about their concerns,” said Boyce. “We want to have a presence here to nip some of that in the bud, some of the unruly behavior.”

Kwilecki, who opened his business in 1985, a year after the center opened, emphasized that he supports the center’s mission of providing for poor people and that the majority of its clients behave.

“I can co-exist with them and I have for nearly 30 years, but there is this element that gets attracted (to) there,” he said. “It’s more a case of enforcement. You just can’t have loitering and hanging around.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.