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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Commission considers creation of homeless shelter task force

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  • ?At their meeting Tuesday night, Newton City Commissioners considered a proposal for a homeless shelter task force that would address issues surrounding the construction of a new homeless shelter in the community.?Lester Limón with PKHLS Architecture brought this proposal to the commission and said he believed the task force could provide a venue for discussion and problem-solving. Although he encouraged consulting regional experts, he thought local members of the community should come up with a customized plan that is targeted to Harvey County.?“I believe it is far more important to establish a local solution to a local problem,” he said.?The Harvey County Homeless Shelter had planned to construct a new facility at the site of the old Bethel Hospital, but at a previous meeting, Newton City Commissioners voted to effectively put this project on hold. They approved an ordinance creating the requirement of a license to operate a temporary shelter (homeless shelter) in the city and imposed a moratorium on the issuance of such licenses for six months pending the study of this issue by the Newton-North Newton Area Planning Commission.?The proposed site for the new shelter is near a residential neighborhood, and residents of the neighborhood have voiced concerns about the project. Property owners have said they are concerned it might not be safe to place the shelter in an area with children and families and said they feared there could be an increase in crime in the neighborhood.?Homeless Shelter board members have said they have a legal right to build and operate the shelter at the site. The shelter already has spent $100,000 of donor money to purchase the vacant lot.?Limón proposed a task force take a look at these issues and examine what requirements the city should establish for the licensing of a temporary shelter in Newton. He suggested the task force include representatives from groups such as the McKinley Historic Neighborhood, the Harvey County Homeless Shelter, the planning commission, the Newton Police Department and the Newton Ministerial Alliance.?The task force could develop a series of regulations regarding the health, safety and welfare of residents of homeless shelters and the residents of districts the shelters are located in. The task force would meet weekly until a compromise is reached.?However, local homeowner Tina Williams was not sure the creation of a task force was the best answer. She said a sizable amount of research and discussion already has occurred, and she is not sure homeowners and the shelter board will be able to agree on a location.?“It’s kind of a little too late (for a task force),” she said. “It’s coming to the point where there’s two sides to this.”?“I do not feel that where they are planning on building is appropriate,” she added. “I think this has gone far beyond just a neighborhood disagreement.”?Commissioner Glen Davis recommended the commission not make a decision about the task force proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, and instead spend some time considering the issue.?“I appreciate you trying to find a solution,” commissioner Ken Hall told Limón. “... I think it’s well worth looking at and to consider.”

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