Camp For Troubled Men May Locate Next To Scout Camps

The City of Dallas is considering a zoning change that may put a facility, with a troubled past, for up to 100 men with "life controlling issues" next door to Dallas' oldest Girl Scout camp, and a neighboring Boy Scout camp.

The planned facility could be located at Camp El-Har and will be operated by Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas--loosely affiliated with the Assembly of God Church.

Teen/Life Challenge Executive Director Paul Ecker defended the facility. "I am a father myself," said Ecker, "and the last thing I want to do is to place children in a position where they would be harmed."

Ecker explained that all men entering the facility undergo extensive background checks. "We do not allow sex offenders, or those on mood-altering medication into the program," said Ecker, an ordained minister for the Assembly of God Church.

The facility will also exclude men with a history of violence.

"We're always concerned about safety which is why we [plan to install] appropriate fencing and cameras."

Asked about the facility's relationship with paroled offenders, Ecker said, "[the facility] is not a halfway house."

According to Ecker, between 15 and 30 percent of all the facility's residents are under some sort of court oversight. The majority of the men in the program participate on a voluntary basis.

"Most [of the troubled men] come to us voluntarily," explained Ecker. "For instance, their pastor may refer them to us."

According to Ecker, the program has been around 49 years. "I've been the Executive Director for 26 years."

However, not everything with the program has been smooth. In 1998, Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas and Ecker were sued by an 18 year old man who claimed he was sexually abused when he was 16 by a worker at the ranch--then in Winnsboro.

The lawsuit accused Ecker and the ranch's board of hiring known criminals as counselors.

"We're not permitted to talk about those cases," Eckert said.

Dallas District Court records indicate that the case was settled in 2001. The amount of the settlement was not available, but the record indicates the judgment went against Teen/Life Challenge.

The zoning case is due before the Dallas Plan Commission on Thursday, June 21 at 1:30. The Girl Scouts of North Texas released a statement expressing concern and urging parents to voice opposition at the meeting:

"Camp El Har, a 52-acre site bordering Camp Whispering Cedars, is currently under contract for sale to Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas, Inc., pending approval of a zoning change request by the City of Dallas Planning Commission. The request is to "amend the planned development ordinance to add a use of Group Residential Facility as an allowed use by right."

Their plan is to provide a residential facility for 100 men who suffer from "life-controlling issues" such as substance abuse or other addictions. While we acknowledge that the mission of this organization is a worthy one, in today's climate, even the perception of a safety issue could harm our council."

Still, Ecker insists the facility will be safe. "Heaven forbid we'd want to hurt anybody."