Friday, May 23, 2008

Controversial Conestoga Halfway House Set to Move

By George Sheldon

Barnabas House, the faith-based halfway house in Conestoga, is planning to move. Just established within the past month, the transitional housing facility provides a temporary home for four men, three of whom are on Megan's List.

"We've already been offered another property that is on a bus route," Tom Armstrong said.

For the past two weeks, emotions have run high in the usually quaint, peaceful town of Conestoga. The community uproar started when former State Rep. Tom Armstrong rented an apartment on Main Street to house the offenders that have been recently released from prison.

On Monday, May 17, a crowd of over 300 jammed the Conestoga Fire Department to attend a citizen’s informational meeting. The majority of the boisterous and often unruly residents clearly did not want the halfway house in their community.

The 'Not in My Back Yard attitude' was clearly on display from those that expressed themselves with vulgarities and shouts.

Ben Vonderheide, who has been involved in an ongoing custody battle that is chronicled on his Web site,, owns the property where the Barnabas House is located. On the Web site, Armstrong is shown in a video saying, "We learned that you (Vonderheide) may have some issues with your son's custody, and we did not want to do anything to create a difficult situation in the custody issue."

Because of the recent controversy in Conestoga, the planned new location of Barnabas House has not been released, nor has the date of the intended move. Armstrong, who provided an extensive and exclusive interview with on Thursday, believes moving his ministry has become more complicated because of the reaction of the Conestoga residents.

"No one wants this kind of attention," Armstrong says.

For the past days, hushed vigilante threats of "burn them out" have been circulating throughout the town. The property owner across the street from Barnabas House has posted several "No Trespassing" signs on the lawn, and has sent a letter to the residents demanding they stay off the property.