As I looked over the Planning Board Shelter Committee’s summary of recommended guidelines for where to put prospective shelters for the homeless, I had a rare moment of insight: Why not move the shelter for the homeless to University Mall instead of the library? Keep the library where it is and put the shelter in the space where Dillard’s is now.
A special-use permit application is under review for the proposed Inter-Faith Council Community House “Men Shelter” (as the town website describes it) at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. A Town Council public hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 21.
So I looked over the Shelter Committee’s recommendations, and it was eerie how many points the mall site would fit just dandy.
One recommendation was to identify social service uses within a quarter of a mile of a proposed site and then consider net benefits or net burdens. Well, there won’t be any “social service uses” affected by putting the shelter in the mall, unless you consider Chick-fil-A a social service use (I’m sure many mall employees do). No clustering of women’s shelters and county services centers. Just the men’s shelter in the spacious area that has housed Dillard’s for so long.
Net benefits include critical needs, unmet needs, increased property values (uh, putting a shelter for the homeless might INCREASE someone’s property value?). A net benefit of putting the shelter in the Dillard’s space would be that the homeless’ constant challenge of staying warm in the winter would be met by allowing them to stay in the heated mall instead of shivering in some downtown alleyway.
No negative benefits I can see – the only noise pollution would be when they hit up the odd shopper with a polite solicitation for public funding. The only safety issue might be that some oblivious shopper caught up in the splendor of the shopping options at the mall might trip over a slumbering body stretched out on a walkway (adds another meaning to “shop ‘til you drop”).
As for location considerations, the town solons are encouraged to look at desirables versus undesirables, with the ideal location having more desirables.
Among the desirables are proximity to public transportation (the mall has a bus stop right outside its doors so the homeless can ride downtown when they get bored with the mall); proximity to professional services, such as a doctor’s office, barber shops, and legal offices (nice to have them available right across the street from the mall); proximity to grocery stores (the Harris Teeter is right in back); proximity to job development centers (it’s just a short hike to the Chamber of Commerce offices where I’m sure Aaron Nelson has many suggestions for where to find a job); proximity to providers of services often utilized by the homeless (medical clinics, food banks, library . . . ah, the library!).
Such a move would get the facility away from sensitive neighborhoods. Think of how much certain business owners would celebrate moving the shelter out of downtown and away from gullible students. A single facility could take care of shopping and homeless needs in one place.
Yes, I think the University Mall Men Shelter would work quite well.