Ruby and Bennie Belton are not surprised by the furor that erupted in Ivywild recently around a proposal to house 30 men with histories of substance abuse — ex-convicts released on parole, men sentenced to probation, homeless vets and other self-referrals — in the Unida House sober-living facility on Cheyenne Boulevard.
A similar storm of public outcry enveloped Ruby and Bennie in 2008 when they proposed converting a halfway house for women, also in Ivywild, into a faith-based facility for men.
Bennie, a former prison minister, wanted to open Restoration House Ministries because he felt a spiritual calling to help.
“I had great faith there could be deliverance,” Bennie said. “We were going to help them become responsible citizens, good husbands and fathers.”
But their dream changed abruptly when the protest reached the City Council, which sided with neighbors.
Ruby and Bennie reverted to a women-only facility, eight at a time, and staffed it around the clock.
“We wanted to rehabilitate them,” Ruby said. “But the women had different agendas. Hidden agendas.”
Ruby and Bennie soon discovered their clients had learned how to manipulate and lie — whether in prison, the county jail or simply by associating with other drug addicts and criminals.
“The Department of Corrections warned us about what we’d see,” Bennie said. “I was surprised to find they were right. It turned out they knew what they were talking about.”
The couple said many of the women had no intention of embracing the faith-based rehab offered at Restoration House.
“In my believing heart, I wanted to give them another chance,” Bennie said. “We were really taken advantage of.”
Some broke curfew, took drugs and snuck around in violation of rules.
“We were trying to do what Christ taught: help the least among us; those in need,” Bennie said. “But they used us. We were just an address to get them out of prison. We were a place to stay and food to eat until they could catch up with their old partners.”
A few women embraced the program and flourished. But not enough. Ruby and Bennie closed Restoration House in February.
They shake their head at the thought of nearby Unida House hosting 30 men.
“The neighbors have reason to worry,” Ruby said. “Thirty is a lot of men.
“I’d say have no more than 8 or 10.”
Bennie said it will take a large, trained staff to manage a house that large.
“How can you supervise that many people?” Bennie said.
He also has a request of Ivywild to compromise.
“I understand it scares them,” Bennie said. “But I hope the neighborhood recognizes there’s a need for this kind of facility. Both sides need to work together.”