On the surface, this sounds like a case of Big Bad Business running a social service agency out of town, but it's not quite so simple. Kevin Guertin, executive director of the Broadway Improvement Association (BIA), says he's always been a big fan of the youth center-he's worked enthusiastically with the group, and still supports it. He says his organization was forced to withdraw its support by Capitol Hill residents who want the center out of their neighborhood.
The Capitol Hill Youth Center has always encountered opposition from its neighbors: three years ago it was essentially forced out of the Odd Fellows building because businesses there didn't like the element it drew. Its current digs are in the basement of the Pilgrim Church on North Capitol Hill, but a vocal minority of neighbors have been criticizing the center for bringing homeless kids to the area and failing to provide tangible results in the way of job training or education.
Gary Clark, a member of the Capitol Hill Community Council (CHCC), says, "It was in reality an all-ages drop-in center, not just a teen center as advertised, so you had 25 and 30 year-olds hanging out in there and hooking up with vulnerable 15 and 16-year-old runaways new to the streets, with predictable results for the younger kids."
In addition to raising these concerns, Guertin says members of the CHCC "resorted to sleaze tactics" to erode support for the youth center. For example, he says the CHCC spread rumors (falsely, according to Guertin) that the BIA was only involved with the center because Guertin is a pedophile. CHCC President Scot Jamieson has even threatened a lawsuit based on that allegation, according to Guertin--and Jamieson's threats have spelled big problems for the youth center.
Guertin says he received calls from the Office of Economic Development about the pedophile rumors, and was told that if a lawsuit was pursued against the BIA, the city would not provide any assistance. Around the same time, Guertin says, East Precinct Officer Paul Grady advised him that the BIA could potentially be liable under the Becca Bill, a piece of state legislation from 1995 which holds social service agencies and teachers liable for not reporting runaways.
Guertin says that under other child abuse laws, any allegations of molestation must be investigated to the fullest extent. He takes the threat of a lawsuit seriously, and says, "We were told in no uncertain terms by the city that we were opening ourselves to liability by continuing to participate in the center. We were told the city would abandon us and not defend us if we continued to participate with the youth center... . I wouldn't be able to do my job and stay involved with the youth center in the face of these allegations."
The idea that a community neighborhood group would make such dramatic allegations simply to sink the youth center sounds somewhat implausible, but other Capitol Hill community groups say it's not out of character for Jamieson, CHCC's newly elected president.
Jamieson, who lives across the street from the center, has been an outspoken opponent, often standing on the corner of 10th Avenue East and Republican, monitoring the agency. As the area's block watch captain, Jamieson can be seen patrolling Capitol Hill with a police radio and trench coat.
Sally Clark, an aide to City Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, says, "Jamieson's a great crime prevention guy, he's into it and it's his life, but he's a little on the edge."
Julia D'Annunzio, director of Q-Patrol, a gay neighborhood watch group, says Q-Patrol has run up against Jamieson's wild side. At a neighborhood planning meeting, Jamieson alleged that the group had engaged in "felony rape of children," and asserted that Q-Patrol committed illegal search-and-seizures and was interested in running their own youth shelter, where kids could stay if they "partied with the adults." D'Annunzio denies the allegations, adding that City Councilmember Richard Conlin, who was running the meeting, had to cut Jamieson off.
Jamieson denies that he ever alleged Guertin was a pedophile, but he does refer to the Capitol Hill Youth Center as "the Frugal Gourmet shelter"--referring to the famous local chef who was charged with molesting young boys. "I only asked why the BIA would be motivated to support this organization. I never said Kevin was in it for the drugs and sex," he says, somewhat curiously. Jamieson says the center's supporters are elitists. "The center is not for protecting poor little homeless youth. We see daily appearances of rich suburbanite kids who drive by here every day to sell drugs."
Guertin is furious that--under Jamieson's direction-- "the neighbors won." He says, "The official line on the center is that they're closing because of money, which is true, but the neighbors have played a big part in it and they are not coming forward with any solutions."
Guertin thinks Capitol Hill residents should be alarmed that Jamieson is their official spokesman. "These people are our voice, and they have clout and power with the City Council, but they don't represent Capitol Hill."
If the big turnout at a community meeting on Thursday May 20, called to discuss ways of keeping the youth center open, is any indication, Guertin may be right.
Based on the meeting, Jan Munger, director of the Capitol Hill Youth Center, is optimistic that an agency with an even wider funding base than St. Mark's will step up to the plate in time to save the center. (Street Outreach Services, a homeless advocacy agency, is meeting with their advisory board on June 2.) Munger worries, however, that any group involved with the center will face "the NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] mentality of the neighbors"--neighbors like Scot Jamieson.