Exclusive: Company planning to open North Philly facility for migrant kids has laid off all employees after lengthy zoning battle

A story you heard first on KYW Newsradio.

Cherri Gregg
October 31, 2019 - 7:02 pm
Located inside of Logan Plaza on Old York Road, The Grace Dix Center will provide temporary residential housing and services for to up to 60 migrant youth between ages 13 and 17.

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The company that was planning to open a North Philadelphia residential facility for unaccompanied migrant children from the U.S. border laid off all of its employees Thursday as they could no longer afford to pay them.

VisionQuest issued a statement Thursday night, saying 65 employees were laid off after nearly a yearlong zoning battle with the City of Philadelphia that kept the center empty for more than eight months. 

"We've continued to pay our staff over the eight months while this was being contested, but we can no longer afford to do so," said CEO Mark Contento.

Last fall, the company secured a three-year, $3.6 million federal contract to house up to 60 migrant boys age 11 to 17 at its Grace Dix Center on Old York Road. 

Back in January, the company took reporters on a tour of the facility to show off more than $200,000 in upgrades that would help make the dormitory-style space comfortable for youth. 

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VisionQuest had prior zoning approval to use the location as a youth shelter. But the city objected, saying to house migrants required special zoning, and the city's zoning board agreed. 

"It means some of our resistance has been working since VisionQuest cannot move forward," said Erika Almiron, who runs Juntos, an immigrants' rights organization.

The mayor, several members of City Council and immigration rights advocates all opposed the facility. Despite an appeal and a lawsuit, the center never opened. 

With no children to house, VisionQuest operators said "they had no choice but to layoff staff."

Contento says VisionQuest will continue its fight to open the center at a later date.  

The city has not commented yet.