The former Fuller Center for Housing headquarters at 4509 W. Market Street may become a sober living facility. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

The sudden sale of the Fuller Center for Housing’s headquarters and the revelation that two sober living homes plan to open within a block of each other has left Shawnee residents with a multitude of questions and concerns.

Shortly after Insider Louisville reported on residents’ apprehension about Southeast Christian’s growing involvement in Fuller Center’s operations, the megachurch quickly pulled out of the nonprofit, which helps low-income families purchase new or remodeled homes, said Phyllis Brown, chair of the Fuller Center’s board of directors.

Brown told Insider that the former board chairman Chad Blanchard, who also was Southeast’s outreach coordinator, resigned from Fuller, and the church pulled its other staff members from the center. The move left the center in financial straits, she said, forcing the nonprofit to sell its headquarters, located at 4509 W. Market St. — only to find out that the buyer plans to rent the building to a men’s sober living facility run by a longtime Southeast Christian member.

Although the full board of the Fuller Center approved the move to sell the headquarters, Brown said, the process was shrouded.

Phyllis Brown, chair of the Fuller Center board of directors, said she did not know the nonprofit’s headquarters was going to be used as a sober living facility. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

On top of that, plans for a women’s sober living facility at 4610 W. Market St. recently were filed with the city. The proposed site is less than 200 yards from the former Fuller Center property, causing some in the neighborhood to question whether Southeast has ties to that facility as well.

“People in the community are saying, ‘Y’all can’t just do what y’all want to do here.’ You can’t just say you’re doing something for our community and expect us to be happy about it. We’ve had experience with these transitional living places. They bring down property values and cause safety issues. We’ve fought them before, and we’ll do it again,” said Bonnie Cole, president of the Shawnee Neighborhood Association.

Cole said she is infuriated that the operators of the proposed sober living facilities — nonprofits 2nd Hope Ministries and Driven Purpose — moved forward with their plans without consulting Shawnee residents first.

Neither of the nonprofits’ websites say whether they employ licensed professionals with experience treating addiction.

2nd Hope Ministries, which plans to rent out the former Fuller Center building, is run by Executive Director Gary Polsgrove, who volunteers with the Men Mentoring Men program at Southeast. The nonprofit’s website lists Southeast as its primary supporter. Southeast Missions Director Charlie Vittitow told Insider his church, a major donor to the Fuller Center, had nothing to do with the decision to sell the center’s headquarters.

Cole said she received an anonymous phone call in late July from a woman who said a Southeast-backed boardinghouse was moving into the Fuller Center and then reached out to Mark Van Meter, the Fuller Center’s executive director. Van Meter didn’t seem to know anything about the sale, she said, but he called her back later with contact information for Polsgrove, who did not return calls or emails requesting an interview.

Brown told Insider that she only knew about 2nd Hope’s involvement with the Market Street property after Cole contacted her a few weeks ago. Since then, she has contacted the national Fuller Center for Housing to complain about the transaction, which she said lacked transparency.

To meet its operating costs, the board voted in May to move its remaining staff to a rented space at 41st and Market streets, so it could sell its headquarters along two properties on Boston Court, Brown said.

The property sales were handled by a three-person committee led by board member Rue McFarland of First American Real Estate. McFarland, who also serves on the board of the Kentuckiana Real Estate Investors Association, did not return calls for this story.

However, Brown said, the Market Street property was never listed. In June, McFarland simply sent a message that to the other board members saying that its headquarters had been sold, she added.

A document filed with the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office on July 19 shows that the property was sold for $100,000 to Greg Popham of the Broadway Management Group and Tom Drexler, owner of Tom Drexler Plumbing. Popham did not return calls or emails seeking an interview. Insider reached out to Drexler for comment but did not immediately hear back.

“There is a lack of transparency about the way the board does things here. That’s something I’ve been trying to change. The board did not know the property was going to be used for a sober living facility because the committee did not make an official report,” Brown said. “As a resident of Shawnee, myself, I would never have supported something like that.”

Polsgrove and his wife met with Cole and Brown at the McDonald’s at 28th and Broadway to discuss their concerns about his plans, Cole said.

Bonnie Cole, President of the Shawnee Neighborhood Association, believes bringing two new sober living to her community is unwarranted. | Courtesy of Bonnie Cole.

“I asked him, ‘Is Southeast involved with it?’ He said, ‘No. People are going to donate money, but the church is not involved.’ I told him if people from Southeast are going to donate money, they are involved in it,” Cole recalled.

On Monday of this week, while she was trying to spread the word about 2nd Hope to Shawnee residents, Cole received notice about Driven Purpose’s application for a rezoning change. That sober living facility is holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 22 at 434 W. Market St. to discuss its plans.

Driven Purpose was founded by Jason Smith, and while Smith has no apparent connection to Southeast, the timing and proximity of the two sober living facilities have raised eyebrows — as has the fact that a February write-up on Louisvilleky.com, which Smith co-owns, states “The Sober Living House, at 4610 West Market Street, has already helped several women escape troubled lives and learn to live without drugs or alcohol.”

The article has Cole concerned that the facility is already in operation.

Smith did not answer phone calls or questions sent to him by Insider, but he did send a message via Facebook that said: “I’m trying to make a difference. Our program is very strict.”

According to Will Ford, spokesman for Metro Codes and Regulation, zoning is one of the few city ordinances that govern transitional living facilities like Driven Purpose. These centers are not covered by the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, a code that defines the rights and responsibilities of the parties in a rental agreement. If a facility houses ex-prisoners or military veterans, there is some state or federal oversight.

Because of the lack of city oversight, it is hard to say just how many transitional homes or recovery centers there are in the city. Dave Langdon, a health department spokesman, said his department is working on some proposed regulations for transitional living facilities, but he did not know how soon they would be introduced.

Cole reached out to Smith, she said, to see if he could move his public meeting from downtown into the Shawnee neighborhood, so more residents could be present. He told her that the couldn’t because the notices had already been sent out, and the two of them have made arrangements to meet, she added.

Cole already knows what she will say Smith whose address is listed near Clifton Heights, noting that she expressed similar sentiments to Popham and Polsgrove.

“I told Gary and I told Greg, ‘Take it out to Southeast.’ If y’all that much in love with them, put those centers in your neighborhoods and see if your communities likes that,” she said.

Michael L. Jones
Michael L. Jones, a freelance journalist and author, covers communities for Insider Louisville. His latest book "Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee" (History Press) received the 2014 Samuel Thomas Book Award from the Louisville Historical League. In addition to his contributions to Insider, his writing appears regularly in LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, Food & Dining – Louisville Edition, and Who’s Who Louisville: African American Profiles. He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jones and his wife, Melissa Amos-Jones, a physical therapist, live in the Kenwood Hills neighborhood near Iroquois Park.