Elsewhere, Christian Soldier

When a do-gooder wants to open a shelter for homeless moms, local gay residents vow to raise hell

Col. Ralph Abra Vaya stood in the middle of 18th Avenue a block north of Sunrise Boulevard and ignored the beaded sweat that dropped from the tip of his 80-year-old nose to his scarred sternum, the mark of open-heart surgery. The old man announced he was going to die.

"Tell my son," he commanded Fred Scarborough, a self-described Christian do-gooder and veterinarian. "Tell him I don't want to die here. I had this surgery" -- he tapped the scar -- "I have two cancers. I won't last another year, and I want out. So why don't you just pay the commission cost and close the deal?"

The deal, a rambling motel Scarborough aims to buy, stretches along both sides of the narrow Fort Lauderdale avenue that dead-ends into Sunrise Boulevard -- 10 buildings freshly painted, with two pools and 45 units for rent by the day, week, or month.

Never mind that hotel owner Ralph Abra Vaya, Jr., the colonel's son, wants to back out of the agreed-upon sale price, $1.39 million. Never mind the powerful residential opposition of the Lake Ridge Neighborhood Association and a city commissioner, Tim Smith, who champions the association's effort to maintain property values at any cost. And never mind that many gays in the association fear a conservative Christian neighbor such as Scarborough could pose an unwanted challenge to their lifestyles, according to association president Bill Rettinger.

Never mind all that, or city zoning laws that would require Scarborough to get special permission to manage the property as he intends.

When Scarborough eyes the tidy cottages dressed festively in tailored plumes of gladioli he sees not trouble but a potential jewel in the crown of his cause -- Shepherd's Way Ministry, a part of the United Methodist Church of Christ.

Scarborough's fever is compassion and his mandate, he says, no more than the traditional Christian marching orders: in this case to house and rescue homeless mothers and their children using the 18th Avenue motel. "We'll just keep it as a motel," he says. "Shepherd's Way spent $80,000 last year renting rooms at motels, and we want a little more say in how a motel is run, with night security, clean services, and whatnot."

"Whatnot" means a healthy dose of religion. Without a Bible-based boost that includes food, a roof, a forced savings plan, and day care, Scarborough believes, mothers escaping homelessness may lack the tenacity to drag themselves off the streets and out of insolvency or squalor.

On 18th Avenue they would find themselves located conveniently near service jobs and transportation along Sunrise -- a necessity if they want to stay in Shepherd's Way. Women using Scarborough's hand up must meet several demands. Each mother must forgo alcohol and drugs, and she must work at least 35 hours a week. She must turn over each weekly paycheck to Scarborough until she has saved $2000 or decides she is ready for independent living. Recipients must also attend church, two Bible classes, and a counseling session for mothers, a total of four meetings a week. Overnight male visitors are not allowed.

When a mother is ready to step out on her own, Scarborough finds her an apartment, often subsidized by government rent programs, and furnishes it for her. Then he keeps track of the family.

That mission doesn't bode well for the colonel's escape plan from the 18th Avenue motel, which he helps manage for his son. While three tattooed women and two emaciated men, also tattooed, watch the conversation from the cool shadows of their hotel doorways, Scarborough quietly draws the line: He will not buy the colonel's escape by paying Ralph Jr. an extra $80,000 to cover the cost of a realtor's commission.

"I'm sorry, the judge is going to have to handle it, sir," he adds, shrugging apologetically.

Instead he intends to persist, Scarborough says, first through the legal dispute with Ralph Jr. and then through the real fight with the Lake Ridge Neighborhood Association and Commissioner Smith.

Arguably the most powerful and well-organized association in the city, early this year Lake Ridge manipulated the wheels of city government to create dead-end barriers along 14 streets that once spilled into Sunrise, an unprecedented effort for a small group of residents. And they don't want Scarborough any more than they didn't want prostitutes and drug pushers who, they claimed, used to wander into their streets from Sunrise Boulevard, says Rettinger, president of the association.

He characterized Lake Ridge as a mix of "young families, old families, gays, straights -- I would say a good portion is lived in by gays. We've put a lot of money into our property, and we don't want to see it degraded."

Scarborough's plan would do that, in his eyes. "They want to buy the motel and use it for transitional housing, but it ain't zoned for that," Rettinger says. "It's not that we don't want these people, but this area, the Northeast, has always been a dumping ground. We got the homeless shelter, the Salvation Army, all this stuff."

Scarborough's religion also worries Rettinger, he acknowledges. The reason: Some Lake Ridge residents fear harassment of gays by conservative Christians. Especially on 18th Avenue, where gay investors have plans of their own that could force them to live cheek by jowl with the Christians. "It's an extreme concern, it's one of the problems," Rettinger says. "Right there next to that hotel, some people want to turn the Garden Villa hotel into a gay resort."

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