When I first learned of the plight of The Nelsen Residence Inc. and the Haven of Divine Love in January 2015, I wrote and published the story "HECK NO! WE WON'T GO" about the dedicated members of a small religious community who were dedicating their lives to serving the low income citizens of a very influential and beautiful city in South West Florida. At first I couldn't understand why a city government would gang up against a group who were providing a valuable service to their community instead of supporting and encouraging them. I was almost misled by the local news reports that characterized the group as negligent landlords who cared less about their occupants, and were refusing to repair a stairway that the city claimed was unsafe and dangerous. News reports by the 3 local TV stations, ABC,CBS, and NBC, depicted a slumlord operation of dilapidated and run down buildings. Quotations made by City of Cape Coral spokes persons claimed that the organization was running a shoddy operation and were refusing to abide by local code and building rules and regulations. The negative TV news stories turned me off and I wanted little to do with them. But, a strange thing happened a few months later. I heard news stories of a lady who wanted to live off the grid and be self sufficient who was thrown in jail for her acts. I heard stories about a man wanting to honor his deceased military brother by placing American Flags at his business. There were accusations of city Code Enforcement inspectors who were acting like "Nazi's," SS Agents, and communists. I thought, what kind of city government runs their operations like a Gestapo? What kind of Judge throws an old lady in jail for doing what we all did 100 years ago? lived off the grid?" Being from Los Angeles, I just couldn't imagine such a place in the US of A. I had to come to Cape Coral Florida to see for myself. It didn't take me long to see the red flags. I found the properties of The Nelsen Residence and Haven of Divine Love to be well maintained, well kept up, and well managed. I found that the city's Code Enforcement was disliked by everyone I spoke to. They operated a "snitch squad" were neighbors turn in their neighbors. Overstaffed inspectors who drive around and look for any conceivable infraction. You can't park a truck or boat on your property. Code inspectors trespass on private property to cite for broken tile on patios, torn screens on windows or patios, missing shingles on roofs. You actually have to get a permit to have a yard sale. They have a man who calls himself a "Magistrate" that finds everybody guilty. WHAT? I've been an investigative reporter for almost 50 years. What kind of investigative TV reporters from WINK News and NBC-2 could distort the facts about The City of Cape Coral to such a degree that they contradict themselves. Investigative reporters? They are a disgrace to the industry. What happened to the media's responsibility to check and balance our government? Why are they not questioning the abuses of the local government? instead of being "The Pravda" of Cape Coral's Russia? What kind of City Council members ignore what is going on under their noses? What kind of City Managers fail to supervise and control their personnel? How is this going on so long without someone saying something?
After examining thousands of documents, speaking to over a hundred people, and analyzing dozens of situations, I found this story to be too big to ignore. This is not a story of a group who refuse to get a permit to repair a few steps of a stairs. (Nowhere in this country is it required to obtain any kind of permit to do repairs) It's a City government out of control. It's a lackadaisical press. It's a listless community afraid to get involved in fear of retaliation. It's Churches, Ministers, self proclaimed Christian, and humanitarians who look the other way and walk on by when they see "a traveler being robbed and beaten." It was then, that I realized that I just can't ignore what I see. "Yes Marni, There IS No Place Like Cape Coral" is a story that must be told. It's a situation that must be corrected, and an example that must be made.
REFERRENCES OF ACTIVITIES
HAVEN OF DIVINE LOVE WEBPAGE
HECK NO! WE WON'T GO!
January 29, 2015
Cape Coral January 29, 2015.
In a defiant move today, a local Religious Community notified the City of Cape Coral Florida that they will refuse to vacate their home and Chapel located at 2307 SE 15th Place, in the City of Cape Coral Florida. On Monday, January 26, 2015, Officials of Cape Coral and LCEC, the local electric company, had the power shut off at the resident building claiming that the building was unsafe, and ordered the residents not to enter. The order to turn off the electricity and ban the residents from entering the building was made by Paul B. Dickson of the Cape Coral Building Department and Dennie Hamilton the CEO of LCEC.
"This is our home, and they will have to drag me by my feet to make me leave," said Sarah Rodriquez, a Minister and Deaconess of The Haven of Divine Love. "What they are doing is very wrong, and we will fight to the end to stop their abuse and discrimination against us," S. Rodriquez stated.
"There is nothing unsafe at all with our house, I can climb up and down the inside stairs with no problem, and I will not allow anyone from the City to stop me from doing so," says Anthony Rodriquez, the Chaplain and Deacon of The Haven. "Even the outside stairs was structurally sound before they tried to make it an issue," A. Rodriquez added.
According to the web page, www.havenofdivinelove.net The Haven of Divine Love is a Non Profit Religious Community that provides low cost housing for low income senior citizens and parties with limited disabilities. It was founded by Eleanor Nelsen, a prior Carmelite Nun in 1993, and operated by her until her death in 2008. Since then it has been operated by a small group of volunteers who vowed to continue Nelsen's legacy of providing services to the poor and disadvantaged members of the local community. According to the Florida Division of Corporations, The Nelsen Residence Inc. operating as The Haven of Divine Love, is a Florida Non Profit Corporation. Jerome F. Valenta is listed as the Registered Agent, President, and Director. Wilfred A. Rodriquez and Sarah A. Rodriquez and are listed as Directors and the Deacon and Deaconess respectively.
"Call it Civil Disobedience if you will," stated Jerome Valenta, the President of The Haven. "We have drawn a line in the sand after suffering over 25 separate violations of our Civil and Religious Rights from actions by the City, and we will not take it anymore," he said. It is not a commercial property subject to their regulations. This is a single family residence, it has always been a single family residence, and a change by the City zoning can not make it anything else," Valenta said
According to County records and zillow.com, the property is a residential 3 bedroom, 4 bath home with a private Chapel built in 1979. "It was originally a convent, but now operated as a Religious Community of both male and female members," Valenta stated. Valenta, a Director and Vice President since 2002, and the younger brother of Nelsen, took over the overseeing of the entity in 2008 upon the tragic death of Nelsen. The records also show that the residence has 2 separate stairways, one inside and one outside. It is the outside stairway that Officials from Cape Coral claim need to be repaired. "That's silly," says Valenta, "a single family home only requires one stairway, we have the luxury of two, and the interior stairs are adequately functional, and the majority of the repairs they are now requiring for the outside stairs was caused by the City of Cape Coral in the first place," Valenta claims. "We attempted to repair the minor problems on the stairs in June 2014 when they ordered us to stop. Now, because of the weathering and the environment exposure, the stairs have been damaged substantially," he says.
The recent problems arose when Officials from Cape Coral raided the single family residence of the clergy on December 12, 2014, claiming that the City had rezoned the property to a Commercial zoning, making the residence a Commercial Property and subject to their commercial conditions. Fire Department Acting Chief, John Maher, Building Department, John McConnell, and 2 other unidentified officials from the Code Enforcement entered the property and residence and cited the organization for not having fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, file walls, fire safety signs, and an unsafe stairway. "That is ridiculous," says Valenta, "I wonder how they would feel if I entered their private homes, without a search warrant, and cited them for commercial requirements. That is a serious violation of our privacy."
Previously, in May of 2014, a prior resident and guest of the facility, Mr. Michael Anagnos, contacted the City Code Enforcement to complain that the stairs were unsafe. "He stated to various other Residents that he 'was going to fall down the stairs and sue this place for everything they got' and then tried to get the Code Enforcement to justify his attempts to defraud," Valenta said. "At no time has the City Code Enforcement ever communicated with any Officer, Director, or authorized representative of The Haven. All communication was with Mr. Anagnos and an agent of Code Enforcement. In fact, it was later learned that the Code Enforcement Agent had no experience whatsoever of construction, and only stated information supplied by Anagnos," Valenta added. "It was a clear cut case of an attempt to defraud which in turn was conspired with the Code Enforcement Agent."
In a statement provided by Valenta, he states, "The vindictive shutting off of the electricity by the City and LCEC denies us access to our first floor chapel which has no connection to a stairway issue, and effectively denies us our religious practices. This is not a issue of the outside stairs being unsafe, it is a issue of extortion, blackmail, attempts to defraud, bias, prejudice, discrimination, retaliation, conspiracy to extort and defraud, an abuse of authority, and a colluded effort of the City Departments to close us down. On top of that, we have a Police Department who continuously fails and refuses to provide our Officers, Directors, Clergy, and Residents protection. They simply do not want poor people in Cape Coral. They have no Homeless Shelters, will not allow Missions, and have absolutely no HUD low cost housing for the low income seniors, disability, or veterans. We are the only facility in the entire City of Cape Coral to provide low cost housing for the low income seniors and persons with disabilities. Some State or Federal Agency need to investigate the actions of this City. They are the most Un-Christian and Inhumane City I have ever experienced."
Whatever happens now apparently is up to the City. In a letter to Mr. Dickson, with copies sent to the City Council, Mayor, City Manager, and City Attorney, Mr. Valenta states " You will have to force them, or physically remove them. In fact, we want you to physically remove them. We actually dare you to do so."
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I, Howard Cantrell, herein grant permission to reproduce or publish all or parts of the above article, "Heck No! We won't Go!" as long as it does not alter the content or statements.
A word from the author, Howard Cantrell