RESIDENTS of Black Hill are furious and fear their quiet neighbourhood could be put at risk by a proposed group home for youths with backgrounds of trauma, set to operate on a local street.
Residents say with no parks, no shops, no access to public transport and limited internet coverage, the children will have “nothing to do”, in the community - which is home to families, a facility for people with disabilities and those who wish to escape suburbia, Black Hill resident Andrew Barton said.
A Newcastle city councillor also questioned the location.
The property was purchased within the last three months by a Catholic organisation called Marist180 which predominantly works with youths at risk.
Black Hill residents are concerned for their safety, partly due to a lack of communication. “No one knows what the kids are out here for,” said an anonymous neighbour.
There are families in the immediate area who have children with disabilities, according to Black Hill resident Daniel Starr, who described the Black Hill community as “vulnerable”.
Multiple residents said they are not against the work of Marist180 nor group homes, but believe the location to be inappropriate.
Black Hill is a rural suburb of Newcastle, 27 kilometres from the Newcastle CBD and 10 kilometres from the closest sporting and commercial centres at Beresfield. The only regular public transport is a school bus running to Black Hill public school.
Residents are shocked they were not consulted about the development, which came to their attention after a construction worker at the property told members of the Black Hill community.
“After one resident found out, everyone else found out through a Facebook post,” Mr Starr said. “They just torpedoed into the area.”
A spokesperson for Marist180 said there was “various consultation with individuals and groups”, and told The Herald a meeting was held in the Newcastle area a few months ago to advise the community there may be a group home established in the region. A date and location for the meeting were not given.
A meeting at Black Hill was held on Tuesday - the first interaction many residents had with Marist180 - and included an open house to inspect the property and ask questions of representatives from the organisation.
Sonia Hornery MP said her office was unaware of any community consultation prior to Tuesday and Marist180 had not responded to queries.
Residents claim they were told at Tuesday’s meeting the children occupying the house will be aged between 12 and 18 and rotate up to every 12 weeks. Marist180 declined to confirm due to privacy reasons.
The facility comes under the “intensive therapeutic care” program run by the state government and Department of Family and Community Services, meaning the City of Newcastle had no approval role in the project.
The development will see four youths under the care of the minister living with a minimum of two carers in the Black Hill house, a spokesperson for Marist180 told The Herald, who said the property was chosen partly due to availability.
“To think the state government can change legislation to do things like this just opens a can of worms,” Newcastle City Councillor Allan Robinson said. He took an interest in the matter as he thinks it is “just wrong”. “What on earth are those kids going to do out there?” he said.
Marist180 told residents they wanted children in the home “by the end of February”, Mr Barton and Mr Starr said.
When asked by The Herald when the facility would become functional, a spokesperson for Marist180 said they were still in negotiations with neighbours, though the neighbours The Herald spoke with on Thursday said they had no contact with Marist180 since Tuesday’s meeting.
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