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Housing authority board member gives homeless woman place to stay, raises questions

By Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:00 PM

A Lebanon Housing Authority board member gave a 35-year-old woman a place to stay recently at Hillcrest Homes, which is public housing for disabled people. 

According to a Lebanon police report, Jennifer Marie Turner was found living at 17 Hillcrest Homes on Feb. 5. The report also said the leaseholder couldn’t be found and none of the leaseholder’s property was found. 

Lebanon Housing Authority board member Bill Durham said the leaseholder was a 58-year-old man who had “a couple of strokes.” When the leaseholder decided to take a trip to Pittsburgh, Durham gave his unit at Hillcrest Homes to Turner. 

“She was homeless. I needed someone to watch the place,” Durham said. “She seemed to be a pretty nice girl, so I put her in there.”

But when Durham stopped paying rent on 17 Hillcrest Homes after the leaseholder decided to remain in Pittsburgh and Turner was evicted after she was found living there, it raised some questions with Lebanon Housing Authority executive director Patrick Johnson. 

“We cannot sublet the units,” Johnson said. “Bill should not have taken it upon himself to do that. Period. He’s all caught up in trying to help someone, but you can’t do that. I have federal policies I have to abide by. 

“You cannot let homeless people stay in public housing. Period. They have to apply just like anyone else.”

Durham said he met Turner while he was working as a volunteer with Compassionate Hands, a local ministry of churches that helps feed and shelter homeless people during the winter months. 

“There are a bunch of us who are working with Compassionate Hands,” Durham said. “We’ve been helping homeless people. We are running into these people daily. We see them and deal with them everyday. 

“I understand she lost her house and needed some place to stay. [Hillcrest Homes] is for people who are disabled, and that’s why the man was living there. I just felt like it was a good place for her to stay… There wasn’t money involved or illegal bills or anything like that.”

Johnson said rules were broken in this case when it comes to what is allowed under federal public housing guidelines. 

“The housing authority has done what it’s supposed to do,” Johnson said. “When a person is found who is not supposed to be there, we follow procedure. We did that in this case. We did due diligence in trying to figure out what happened here.” 

According to Wilson County sheriff’s arrest records, Turner was charged with various offenses dating back to 2006, including public drunkenness, probation violation, driving on a suspended license, failure to appear in court and contempt of court. It’s not known whether Turner was convicted, but since 2006, she’s listed as a resident of three different Upton Heights addresses at various times. Upton Heights is also part of Lebanon Housing Authority. 

“When you meet these people and you are seeing them face to face and trying to get them a meal or two or a place to stay, they are already defensive,” Durham said. “When they come in, you take them for face value and try to get them a place. 

“I didn’t do it as a board member. I did it as a person keeping a single person from being homeless. If it came down to someone being homeless or staying at a friend’s house, I would let them stay at a friend’s house. 

“I didn’t want to lose the apartment. I wanted him to pay the rent, and I didn’t want it to be vacant. It wasn’t about me being on the board of directors. It was because I was in control of the place, and she needed a place to stay.”

Durham said the leaseholder was aware Turner was staying in the unit at the time. 

Johnson said Thursday he hadn’t spoken to Durham, but plans to address the issue with the board upon his return from a conference in Mississippi. 

“This issue will be addressed in the sense of a reminder of what you signed, your place and your role, along with the potential ramifications on the board and the housing authority as a whole,” Johnson said. “It will be up to the board to decide what to recommend or not recommend.”

Attempts by The Democrat to reach Turner were unsuccessful on multiple tries. 

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