BARSTOW The future of a proposed housing project for people with low incomes and mental illnesses across the street from Barstow High School remains unclear after a meeting between the county, community members and the project developer on Monday.

Lantern Woods Apartments at 425 S. First and 434 S. Second Avenue is a 29-unit complex that will undergo extensive renovations before opening up as a low-income housing project. Clifford Beers Housing Inc. has proposed reserving 10 of the units for the seriously mentally ill including people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Several residents and parents have been protesting the project because of its location directly across from the high school. Allan Rawland, director of the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health which was seeking approval for additional funding for the project from the Board of Supervisors decided to delay the funding decision at a special City Council meeting last month after hearing residents' concerns.

According to Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce President Mark Sielski, residents at the meeting asked Clifford Beers to eliminate the mentally ill portion of the project and asked them to secure funding for only the low-income housing portion.

Sielski said representatives from Clifford Beers said at the meeting that although they had received funding for low-income housing, they would be unable to start construction without additional grants or funding because the grants they had been issued reserve 60 percent for construction and 40 percent for maintenance. Community members suggested that Clifford Beers work with the county Department of Aging and reserve some of the units for low-income seniors, said Sielski. Sielski added that he hoped the developer would then look for other options for the mentally ill housing in the community away from schools in smaller units.

"It was never about denying housing to the mentally ill," said Sielski. "It was about the location and not bringing in the community from the very beginning."

The other option that community members presented to Clifford Beers and the county would be to create a memorandum of understanding between the city, county, and Clifford Beers that would ensure there was better security at the site including the constant presence of a security guard and better security cameras, said Sielski.

According to Bonar, executive director for Clifford Beers, the community members present at the meeting only briefly mentioned the subject of extending preferences to seniors with mental illness. Bonar also refuted that there had been a memorandum of understanding discussed between Clifford Beers and the Barstow community.

The meeting on Monday was not open to the public and the Desert Dispatch did not attend.

Bonar said that he did not know what options he had with the Lantern Woods project but said the company planned to return to the county and discuss the wishes of the community with them.

According to county behavioral health department spokeswoman Lynn Neuenswander, any further steps with the Lantern Woods project will be determined by the community and Clifford Beers.

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