Gimme shelter redux

With last night’s Town Council meeting cancelled due to adverse weather, my mind had time to wander and ponder other options for the location of the Community House, the proposed shelter for homeless men that the town would like to site on Homestead Road, where it would be clustered with other social service facilities. The town wants so badly to build the new shelter on Homestead Road that it has taken evasive action to avoid hearing possible objections from the citizenry, scheduling hearings and planning meetings for times when the public is least likely to show up or not giving the public adequate advance notice of meetings. For instance, supporters of building the shelter on Homestead Road were notified on Nov. 8 that the planning board would hold the first public review of the shelter’s SUP application on Jan. 4, giving them eight weeks to prepare. But the general public had only one week’s notice, and that announcement was made during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when many people were away for the holidays. Only a few citizens who want to explore other options for the shelter’s location were able to attend.

Because of the fear of inclement weather, the town rescheduled the hearing on the shelter for Jan. 19, the same night that the Parks & Recreation Committee will review the expedited SUP application.

To expedite moving the shelter from Rosemary Street so that it won’t interfere with Ram Development’s quest to find buyers for the leasehold condos now rising on Lot 5, we have two suggestions for town-owned properties that could be repurposed into a homeless shelter.

What we see for 523 E. Franklin St. is a spot for the Community House. Plans call for only 25 beds plus office and meeting space, which would fit nicely in the landmark building. The town has already approved a budget for the space to be renovated. And wouldn’t we all feel a sense of closure in housing the homeless in the former home of the now homeless Chapel Hill Museum?

The mayor, some council members and the town manager are gung-ho to relocate the library to University Mall, leaving the current library building in Pritchard Park off Estes Drive available for the Community House. The office and meeting space is already in place on the lower level. Install some showers on the main level, and you’ve got a turnkey operation with plenty of space to adequately handle the white-flag nights. And the Library Drive building is far enough back from the street that any homeless men loitering outside would not be visible to passersby, thus preserving the image of the town we like to think we are.
– Nancy Oates

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9 Comments

  1. Duncan O'Malley

     /  January 11, 2011

    These suggestions certainly seem worth exploring, especially in light of the many concerns expressed by local citizens for putting it on Homestead road.

    Creating a shelter so far away from the center of town never made sense to me anyway.

  2. George C

     /  January 11, 2011

    Nancy,
    You seem to have a number of facts wrong. First, the topic that was moved from last night’s Town Council meeting to the meeting on the 19th of January was not the application for the shelter but was the Planning Board’s recommendations to Council for shelter guidelines. The SUP application for Community House will be on the Council’s agenda in March, if I remember correctly. Second, the proposal for Community House is for 52 beds, not 25.

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  January 11, 2011

    George — You’re right. I guess the excitement of anticipating more snow rattled my brain.

  4. Runner

     /  January 11, 2011

    I fully support the construction and operation of a facility at the Homestead Road location that provides transitional housing for those who qualify for the “Homestart” program. What I have trouble with is the IFC’s addition of faciities to support the drop-in homeless on “white Flag”nights and the same location.

    The “Homestart” program is supposed to provide a stable environment for those transitioning into self sufficient activity. This is a good cause. However, the recurring presence of drop-in homeless can only diminish the success of such and operation while adding unnecessary burden on the neighborhood.

    The town, and more acurately, the county should seek an alternate location to supporting the drop-in homeless.

  5. Runner

     /  January 11, 2011

    I wish there was a way to edit my responses on this site so that I can clean up my spelling and gramatical errors.

  6. George C

     /  January 11, 2011

    Runner,
    The only reason the IFC is proposing to handle “drop-in” homeless men on “white flag” nights is that no other organization, government or private, is stepping up to do so. It is not proposing to add facilities to accommodate these “drop-ins” – they would be housed on cots in the meeting rooms. The IFC has also stated that the number of “drop-ins” would be limited to 17 and that only men that had been pre-screened at their facility in Carrboro AND transported by IFC personnel to the Community House would be allowed in. The IFC has also stated that they are continuing to talk with other organizations, such as various religious congregations, about the possibility of housing these homeless men on white flag nights. Perhaps a true measure of our community’s compassion will be whether any organizations do step up to help.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  January 11, 2011

    The current library building doesn’t meet the primary requirements for Community House: easy access to transit and close to existing facilities so that they can share resources. The old library has more transit access but doesn’t meet the access for sharing medical, dental, and social services with the womens Community House and the Senior Center.

    Regardless of where this facility is sited, the neighbors are going to complain (as they have for all the other proposed sites over the past 10+ years). Some of the more vocal Homestead Road neighbors have very honestly stated that they will oppose this facility even if the emergency beds are removed. So opposition can’t be attributed to specific aspects of the proposed facility–they just don’t want it in their neighborhood.

  8. Runner

     /  January 11, 2011

    George C,

    It is my opinion that the facility that operates the Homestart program should not double as the emergency shelter. There needs to be an alternate location for the “drop-in” homeless. The Town and/or the County should finally step up and actively find an alternate location.

  9. John Kramer

     /  January 11, 2011

    Great article, sad commentary on how Chapel Hill treats its citizens who pay their salaries.

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