The Franklin County Homeless Task Force (HTF) received both support and opposition at the public forum Tuesday, April 16, on a proposed homeless shelter in Washington.
The task force presented before seeking input from the roughly 150 community members who attended the forum.
The proposed shelter, named The Bridge, would be located 10 Franklin Ave. off of Highway 47 south of the Missouri River bridge.
Several people raised concerns of guests using drugs at The Bridge, being kicked out and then wandering the streets. In response, other audience members stated those homeless people are already walking the streets.
“That’s assuming that every homeless person is a drug addict,” Jason Grellner, Mercy safety and security manager, said. “That’s the assumption that is not correct.”
Grellner is a former sergeant with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. He served as head of the Franklin County’s drug task force for several years.
“The biggest problem we have in society is people’s freedom to use whatever they want, intoxicate themselves and go out and cause problems,” Grellner said. “That isn’t the problem with every homeless person you see.”
Annie Foncannon, executive director of the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board, said she assisted one homeless person who had diabetes and was in need of supplies. She remembers calling the McAuley Clinic, a pharmacy and Dr. Brunworth to ask if the supplies could be used for drugs. The answer was no.
“I made that assumption and I work in this field,” said Foncannon, who also serves on the HTF.
One community member was particularly discouraged with the discussion of drug addicts. Joseph O’Bryant, New Haven, recounted a time he was living in his car and was down on his luck. His father had just passed away and he said he lost sight of his direction. He stated that he wasn’t a drug addict, and not all homeless people are.
“If you’re going to talk negative, help solve the problem,” he said. “If you’re afraid they’re going to tear up your neighborhood, put them to work.”
Foncannon stated that she’s seen studies conducted in large cities on property values surrounding homeless shelters. She said while the research was done in city’s with higher populations that Washington, there was no conclusive evidence that property values decrease near a shelter.
Local businessman Larry “Cowboy” Proemsey disagreed with her research.
“Whoever said that this will not have an effect on the immediate property values around there, I’ll challenge their credentials,” Proemsey said. “My fiancee is a real estate agent. I’m very well-versed in real estate, particularly in this town. I can tell you that if you have a piece of property next to that building, it will cause the property value of that to decrease the day that you sell it.”
O’Bryant also addressed the comments on declining property values near a shelter.
“You’re going to dog people who need help just because your house doesn’t look pretty?” O’Bryant asked.
Michelle Crider, Loving Hearts Outreach, said she understood people’s concerns about their property values, but encouraged them to look past that.
“I live downtown so I understand the worry about your housing and what’s going to happen in the neighborhood,” she said. “As long as the program is run the way it should be run it’s going to benefit our town as a whole. If you’re concerned about how it’s run, get on the board.”
She noted the shelter will help agencies like Loving Hearts save money that can be used to help in other ways.
“There are so many people that nobody sees,” Crider said. “Those are the people this is going to benefit.”
“If our community is what we say it is, we should be able to make something like this work,” Jeremiah Clements, local minister, said.
“The initial funding is from a most generous donor,” Task force member Ed Menefee, Washington Police Chief, said. “There are organizations in the city that have said they will contribute resources, furniture and food.”
He noted the donor wanted to give back to the community. “He wanted to make an impact on those people who don’t have anything,” he said.
One community member suggested moving the location closer to Target off Highway 100 so the guests staying at The Bridge would be closer to jobs there. However, Menefee said the donor thought the Franklin Avenue would be the best location. “Ultimately, it is up to our donor to make the decision,” Menefee said. The funds from the donor will be used to purchase the property.
Foncannon said they are looking into using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to finance the shelter. Under the HUD financing, the shelter would be placed under strict restrictions such as not vetting nor drug testing guests.
However, Foncannon assured the audience that if a guest is causing a disturbance or is using drugs at the shelter they will get kicked out. Aside from strict rules and regulations, guests will only be allowed at the shelter for 30 days, which raised concerns from a citizen who stated the limit would not be enough time to help the homeless find a job, apartment or be able to make enough money to go out on their own.
Foncannon said that guests will be able to earn extra time by meeting their goals, such as obtaining a job or working with a job center to create a resume.
The shelter will have room for three to four families and 12-15 individuals. If it becomes booked, there are other options for those homeless people. Task force members said they will continue measures they’re doing now, which include several local organizations helping by booking hotel rooms, booking a stay at Grace’s Place or transporting them to the nearest shelter.
The shelter will house 16- and 17-year-olds when needed. If they reach capacity, those teens will be redirected to Grace’s Place, which can hold teens up to 18 years of age for 30 days.
“We do have other options,” Foncannon said. “We’re still working on other programs specifically for teens.”
Menefee mentioned Hope Ranch as a possible program in the future once it’s open.
Safety regarding the guests at the shelter was brought up in regards to keeping teens safe. The task force members explained a complete key lock system will be installed to protect guests. One area will be set up for adults and another for families. Once a guest has walked through the proposed vestibule, they enter a room where they can enter through one of two doors which will lead to separate areas.
Other safety concerns regarding the community also arose. Menefee said there would be extra patrol in that area.
“The goal is to keep you safe,” Menefee said. “To have the center, but not interject your safety.”
The shelter will have a permanent staff of two people with the help of volunteers. Menefee noted they are looking for volunteers.
As for keeping the staff safe, Foncannon said everyone will be trained on de-escalation techniques and what to do to keep everyone safe.
“The goal is whoever is hired as a director is someone who knows homelessness and the community,” Lindsey Jasper, HTF, said.
Business Owner Concerns
“The one thing that I will tell you that concerns us is the homeless people because guess what?” Proemsey stated. “We’re the people who deal with them. We’re the people who have the problems with them because they’re in our businesses. They’re causing us problems.”
Proemsey included a story about one homeless person who came in from the cold and sat down at a booth at the Washington Coffee Shop, which Angie Holmes, his fiancee, owns. It was during a time when the coffee shop was busy and the people working were focused on helping the customers. Meanwhile, the homeless person urinated in the booth and then left.
“Instead of serving coffee to the clients they were busy trying to figure out how to clean up urine,” Proemsey said. “That’s not the first and it won’t be the last.”
Proemsey added that since opening the event center at the old John B. Busch Brewery, there have been several homeless people who pick up cigarette butts off the patio, finished drinks left on the tables and if they aren’t stopped at the door they join the food line.
“The mayor is sitting back here and will tell you how much property I’ve bought in the city of Washington in the last few years,” Proemsey said. “I spend a lot of money here and I’m going to tell you one thing, if we don’t get a grip on this I’m going to stop doing it.”
Both Proemsey and Holmes also own several monthly and nightly rentals in Washington.
“In my opinion, if you bring another institution here to give them more services and provide more things for them, they will come,” Proemsey said. “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. The property includes 22 acres and 10 buildings.
“We are very kind and generous here and that’s what’s caused the problem,” Proemsey said.
“I would just like to say you are talking about two different issues here,” Mary Price, resident, answered. “One is you have these homeless people here in town that are always going to be in town, they’re always going to be in our backyards and businesses and there’s not a darn thing you can do about that unless the community stands behind them.
“What we’re talking about here is helping those people who could have the ability to pick themselves up,” Price said. “We’re not talking about those people who are going to always be homeless. The people you’re (Proemsey) talking about, they’re not the people we’re talking about helping.”
The proposal will go before the planning and zoning committee Monday, May 13, at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers. The committee will have to approve a rezoning request. The property is now zoned C-1, but to accommodate a “hotel” even though they’re not charging anyone, it must be rezoned to C-2. Then the proposal will go on to the city council Monday, May 20, at 7 p.m.
If more than 30 percent of adjoining property owners sign a petition opposing the rezoning it will take six council votes, or a “super majority,” to approve the zoning change. Menefee said if everything gets approved, he thinks renovations could be complete by mid-June or July.