Community leaders, church members clash over proposed migrant shelter on East Side
Protesters cite possible unfair treatment of children as reason for opposition
SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE: Thomas Washington, deacon of Second Baptist Church, sent KSAT the following statement after this story aired.
"If VisionQuest wanted a detention center they could have just opened a large warehouse with nothing in it but concrete floors and walls. But as you can see they contacted us our because they wanted something better for the kids. If you haven't done so already take time to tour our facility which has a gym for basketball and volleyball and a bowling alley + lots of large windows, things that you would not expect to have in just a detention center."
The future of a community center at an East Side church is in limbo. Some church members want it to become a shelter for migrant boys who cross the border unattended, but those opposed say it would operate more like a detention center.
On Friday, District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews Sullivan and Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert were among those speaking out against the idea, going as far as to say that Visionquest, the company hired by the federal government to secure the facility, causes both physical and psychological pain.
"Today, I'm standing here to protect God's children … Visionquest subjected young people to physicals where they were pushed up against walls, pushed down onto the floor, twisted their arms, twisted their legs," Calvert said.
Representatives for Visionquest deny abuse allegations and say the facility wouldn't be a detention center at all, and instead would be a nurturing environment. They said the children would be able to bowl, roller-skate and play basketball.
"Our church members would not bring any shame and disgrace to the community. We've been in this community for many years," said Thomas Washington, deacon of Second Baptist Church.
"It is a shelter. It's 30 to 90 days. Average stay would be about 50 days for these children. We have case managers. We have therapists. We hire medical staff," a representative for Visionquest said.
Sullivan said the church's goal is disingenuous. She believes the driving force behind the church's push is the $3.2 million payoff it would receive over three years.
Sullivan is encouraging fellow City Council members to vote against the necessary zoning change that would allow the church to host the shelter.
"This is one of those moments where full transparency is definitely needed. There's history behind Visionquest, but no one fully knows the history," Sullivan said.
There is no word on when the rezoning vote will take place.
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