Proposed location of “Big Momma’s House” worries neighbors

October 3, 2018

POCATELLO — Residents of a neighborhood where a local pastor plans to build a supportive housing facility say they plan to show up in force at an Oct. 10 planning and zoning meeting to speak out against the proposed location.

The project is known as “Big Momma’s House” because local pastor Jacqualine “Big Momma” Thomas is spearheading the effort.

The facility is proposed for behind McCormack Street. Several petitions have already circulated in the area in advance of a Pocatello Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 10 at City Hall, during which a rezoning request will be discussed.

Gary Barela, who lives in the neighborhood, says their first concern is zoning and infrastructure. The neighborhood is currently zoned for medium-density housing. Barela said the property would have to be rezoned for high-density use.

Barela said the neighbors have concerns about the project’s possible impact on traffic.

“The infrastructure change that they have to do here would be immense and would affect everybody,” said Kirk Fry, another concerned neighbor.

Barela said members worry about the type of people the project might bring in. He said the facility would accept men who have been out of prison for a year. Many of the neighbors said they are afraid for their children’s safety if the home is built.

“As a family member of a convict that I would like to see rehabilitated, I don’t want to see them rehabilitated around my children,” Barela said. “That may sound cold, but it’s what I have to do to protect my family.”

Lance Kolbet, community advocate coordinator for Big Momma’s House, said the home would serve the “whole community without discrimination,” including ex-convicts. However, he said would-be residents will be carefully screened, and nobody convicted of a sex offense will be eligible.

“The goal is to serve the entire community, so no regard to race, religion, color, age or any other discriminatory ideals,” Kolbet said.

Kolbet said the facility will use an “intense” three-hour screening process. But Barela emphasized it would only take a single “bad apple” to ruin someone’s life.

Fry said that having the building behind homes would pose privacy challenges in the neighborhood.

Many of the neighbors said a facility would be a bad fit for any residential area in the city.

“I believe in second chances for people, I really do, but there are more appropriate areas for something like this,” Fry said. “These people are people who have made poor choices, who may be addicted to substances that will govern their choices.”

Kolbet said safety is the first priority for Big Momma’s House.

“The people that will be focused on are the type of people that are really looking to have a restart and that are vetted,” Kolbet said. “The goal of this is to take people who may be homeless, and instead of putting a Band-Aid on the problem, we’ll really be getting to the root of it.”

Kolbet said that Big Momma’s House plans to send a letter to neighbors on the morning of Oct. 3 to try and bridge the gap between the home and the neighborhood.

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