Homeless Task Force

Planning for a homeless shelter in Washington has hit a snag now that the city is looking to limit the zoning district where these facilities can be located.

Washington city staff is proposing that temporary shelters be only permitted as a special use in industrial zoning districts, M-1 and M-2.

The Franklin County Homeless Task Force (HTF) submitted a request to “up-zone” two properties at 4 and 10 Franklin Ave. (Highway 47), from C-1 light commercial to C-2 general commercial. The HTF held a public forum last month where about 150 proponents and opponents attended.

The planning commission will have the first look at the zoning code amendment at 7 p.m. Monday, May 13, at Washington City Hall. Then the request will go in front of the city council Monday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

According to preliminary plans, the HTF intends to open a shelter, named The Bridge, at the location, which is the former office of Dr. David Brunworth and Dr. Tim Baker, and before that Dr. Sam Farrell.

A letter in the agenda packet for the Washington Planning and Zoning Commission’s Monday, May 13, meeting suggests that the city adopt the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) definition for temporary shelters to the city’s zoning code.

According to Sal Maniaci, community and economic development director, the city’s “zoning matrix” — which lists all permitted and special uses — is derived from the NAICS.

The NAICS defines temporary shelters as emergency shelters for abuse victims, homeless people, runaways and patients in a “medical crisis.”

If the zoning code change is adopted, then a shelter would not be permitted at the Franklin Avenue properties.

The M-1 and M-2 zoned districts in Washington are typically not near residential districts. The area with the largest number of M-1 and M-2 districts is the industrial parks in the western side of town.

Rezone Request

In addition to the zoning code amendment recommendation, a protest petition has been signed by 34 percent of landowners within 185 feet of the Franklin Avenue property,  triggering a “super majority” approval by the city council.

According to codes, if 30 percent or more of property owners within 185 feet oppose a rezoning, then approval would require six or more council votes.

However, Washington city staff is recommending approval of the Franklin Avenue rezoning request, noting that the “requested zoning is appropriate for the area.”

According to the staff report, any development on the properties would be subject to zoning and site plan requirements, including parking, stormwater, screening and fire access. Those items would be evaluated prior to development.

The staff recommendation only applies to the rezoning to C-2 commercial, and not any intended uses for the property. 

Letters of Support

There were multiple letters of support submitted in favor of a homeless shelter.

The letters are from the St. Peter’s United Church of Christ Council and the St. Peter’s Justice Witness Mission Group. Each letter had multiple signatures. 

A letter of support also was submitted by Washington resident Pat Forget.

The Shelter

The Bridge would offer classes on developing soft skills for employment, how to get a job, how to make groceries stretch and things to know as a renter.

The homeless shelter is being funded through an anonymous donor.

The shelter also would provide access to computers and the internet for people to use to find jobs and places to live.

The facility would be able to accommodate three to four families and 12-15 individuals. It will be a 501(c)(3) organization.

Additionally, the shelter will house 16- and 17-year-olds when needed. If it reaches capacity, those teens will be redirected to Grace’s Place, which can hold teens up to 18 years of age for 30 days.

The shelter will have a permanent staff of two people with the help of volunteers.

At The Bridge, the guests will have to follow a code of conduct and rules to be able to stay. Before checking in, guests will have to sign a waiver stating they know what the consequences are if the code of conduct or rules are not followed.

Guests will be allowed to stay 30 days, but would have the opportunity to extend their stay by following the rules, obtaining goals and helping out around the facility.

If a guest has been kicked out or they leave before their 30 days are up, that guest will not be able to return for 30 days on the first offense.

Homeless task force members explained that The Bridge is not designed for just any homeless person, but for those who are trying to better themselves and become a contributing member of the community.

Many of the homeless in Washington are already working, according to the task force. Some make enough to pay a hotel weekly fee, others couch hop, park their cars in various locations each night, sleep in tents, dumpsters, garages and storage sheds.

In January, the HTF determined there are 32 homeless, or at risk of being homeless, families in the county. The families range from individuals to parents with children.

Opposition

The shelter proposal has polarized community members, pitting those who say the shelter is necessary to combat homelessness against those who expressed concerns that guests may be kicked out and then wander the streets.

Others argue that the shelter could decrease property values in the area.

In addition, some business owners suggested that if the shelter is built it will attract more homeless people from other areas. 

“In my opinion, if you bring another institution here to give them more services and provide more things for them, they will come,” local business owner Larry Proemsey said during the public forum. “To be honest with you, I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think this is it.” 

Proemsey then suggested building a homeless workshop in the Smilin’ Sam’s commercial buildings, in the Campbellton area.