Waco city council denies permit for migrant shelter in East Waco

Final city council vote for migrant children in East Waco was held on Feb. 18 and confirmed the denied request for a permit to VisionQuest. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Journalist

By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer

VisionQuest, an Arizona-based for-profit company that leases facilities for at-risk youth across the country, submitted a request to turn an East Waco property into a shelter for unaccompanied alien children between the ages of 11 and 18.

VisionQuest requested a continuation of the permit during the city council meeting Tuesday night. However, both the continuation and the permit was denied.

Council Member John Kinnaird has been serving on the Waco City Council for eight years. He said both the city staff and plan commission did not approve of the permit to the city council in a plan commission meeting last month.

“It is up for the council to consider, however given the staff recommendations and the vote by the plan commission there is a chance that it will not be considered,” Kinnaird said before the city council vote. “With both staff and plan commision not approving it, it will require a supermajority of the council. So five of the six of us have to approve, so it might just go back to the drawing board.”

C.E.O of Bid Group, LLC, Daniel Brandt, said he had planned on leasing the East Waco property to VisionQuest if the permit was approved.

“I’ve never had to go through all this for a permit. It is singled out because it is a controversial subject though,” Brandt said.

The Plan Commission did express concern for VisionQuest’s history of child abuse reports at their other facilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice published an investigation report in 1994, which cited VisionQuest for abuse and misconduct in a Franklin, Pa. facility.

“According to VisionQuest’s records, at the Franklin facilities alone it has fired 13 staff for known or suspected abuse or physical harm in the past two years,” the report said.

In 2017, the city of Philadelphia ended their contract with the company because there were incidents of child abuse by employees and inadequate working conditions at a location in North Philadelphia. The city of San Antonio also recently turned down VisionQuest permit requests for their shelters.

“VisionQuest wanted to lease property from me and I looked into what they do. I think people blow it out porportion, all I know is what they are doing is helping kids,” Brandt said. “I’ve heard discussions of the allegations…the responses from VisionQuest all sounded sufficient.”

Kinnaird explained that politics aside, the particular transitional shelter permit VisionQuest wanted did not meet any of the specific purposes set for the permit.

“They were requesting a permit for a transitional shelter, and our permits for those have three specific uses, either help people cooperate from drugs and alcohol, help homeless people get back on their feet or to provide a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. What they are proposing does not meet those three uses,” Kinnaird said.

City council raised concerns community-wide, and many Waco citizens showed up at the plan commission to voice their opinion. There was disapproval of more social services in East Waco too.

“We will always keep an open mind to consider any operation to come before us, I myself couldn’t contemplate a scenario where I would be favorable towards this,” Kinnaird said.

Brandt said he hoped VisionQuest would continue their efforts to achieve the permit.

“[VisionQuest] is talking about taking legal action, they won’t go down without a fight,” Brandt said about going forward. “I would love to see it. I’d like to see them continue to try.”