The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Homeless shelter plan to be reviewed

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  • By Ashley Bergner
    Newton Kansan
    Newton City Commissioners voted to forward plans for a new homeless shelter to the Planning Commission for review, after hearing comments and concerns from community members and homeless shelter representatives at the commission meeting Tuesday morning.
    “That would allow a review of a number of issues that might be associated with these kind of facilities,” said City Attorney Bob Myers.
    Scott and Tina Williams, who live on South Pine, have attended several city commission meetings to share concerns they have regarding a proposed site for a new homeless shelter. They said the proposed site is catty-corner to their home (on the site of the former Bethel Hospital), and they do not believe a residential neighborhood is the best location for a homeless shelter.
    “This is not a situation or a concern that we don’t agree that there needs to be a homeless shelter,” Tina Williams said. “… It’s simply about logistics and statistics. A residential area is not a place for a facility like this.”
    She and her husband said they were concerned some of the residents who stay at the homeless shelter could create safety issues for families and children that live in the area.
    City staff reported the property in question is zoned correctly for the placement of a homeless shelter. If a building permit were to be requested for such a facility in this zoning classification, the only issue would be whether the building plans conform to existing building code regulations.
    Myers reported some cities have dealt with similar issues by requiring the issuance of a special use permit, which could include a management plan that deals with security for the homeless shelter.
    Jim Elliott, a member of the Harvey County Homeless Shelter board, said the shelter doesn’t own its current facility and would like its own building that’s safer, more secure and more family-friendly.
    “We are raising children who are homeless,” he said. “We are trying to give them what we can as a community.”
    He said the proposed site was selected after careful consideration.
    “An enormous amount of research has been done,” Elliott said. “We’ve looked at different properties and different buildings. ... I know this property is not perfect, but it’s by far the best that we could find.”
    While the shelter sometimes does deal with substance abusers or those with other addictions, he said the shelter is not designed for what he calls the “chronically homeless.”
    “We define ourselves as a temporary, emergency shelter for people in need,” he said.
    Homeless shelter board president Lee Penner said the board would like to be “fully transparent” with the community, and he also wants to make sure the homeless shelter is safe for both residents and surrounding community members.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I live in the neighborhood,” he said. “I have an interest in a shelter that’s secure.”
    Homeless shelter volunteer Larry Lein was one of the first residents at the homeless shelter and spoke about how the shelter had given him help in a time of need.
    “I needed the homeless shelter, and it was there for me,” he said. “... The homeless shelter has so many opportunities for so many people that are in a bad way. They need a hand up, not a hand out.”
    Mayor Racquel Thiesen encouraged homeless shelter representatives and community members with concerns to continue engaging in conversation and to work on a solution that serves both parties.
    “This isn’t necessarily a decision this governing body has any influence over,” she said. “… We’re all in this community together, and we need to keep having dialogue.”
    Commissioner Jim Nickel also urged both parties to keep each others’ concerns in mind.
    “Nobody wants it in their neighborhood,” he said of the shelter. “You have a little bit of empathy for the people who have to live around it.”
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