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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • No task force for homeless shelter project

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  • Newton City Commissioners elected not to form a task force that would address issues surrounding the construction of a new homeless shelter in the community.?Although Lester Limón with PKHLS Architecture previously brought this proposal to the commission and said he believed the task force could provide a venue for discussion and problem-solving, the commission did not think a task force was the most effective solution.?“I’m against the task force at this time,” said Commissioner Glen Davis. “I don’t think we need one. This (issue) has been hashed and hashed and hashed.”?Commissioner Ken Hall agreed. “I question what the … success of this task force would be and how much longer it would drag it out,” he said. “I don’t know if this is a task force or more of a group of people that need to come together and have an understanding.”?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’s proposal involved forming a task force that would take a look at the previously stated 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.?While commissioners thanked Limón for his work on the task force proposal, they thought the homeless shelter debate had perhaps become too contentious to solve with a task force.?“This is truly an issue where collaboration would have to exist in order for progress to be made,” said Mayor Racquel Thiesen. “I’m not convinced that all of the players in this particular game are willing at this point to collaborate. I don’t know that we’ll have voices on both sides of the issue at the table that are willing to do the work that the task force idea was originally proposed to do.”?“Perhaps a task force would prolong the inevitable,” she added. “We still have to make a decision here.”?Local homeowner Tina Williams said she supported the commission’s decision.?“I agree with you … that a task force is not necessary, that it would just drag everything out,” she said.?She also thought a task force might make the discussion too narrow, and the goal should be to come up with regulations that will apply to the entire city, not just this particular situation.?“Clearly this isn’t just my neighborhood,” she said. “This is across the city of Newton.”
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