Advocates of homeless shelter hold forum

Advocates of homeless shelter hold forum

Image Credit: Lori Feeney

On Wednesday, Jan. 4, Friends of the Homeless held a public meeting at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Parish Hall. Approximately 60 people attended the meeting including area residents, several members of city council and two county commissioners.

The purpose of the meeting was to present the case for building a new homeless shelter, to be named the House of Hope, and to answer questions from residents who live near the proposed site at 327 Beaver Ave. NE in New Philadelphia.

Friends of the Homeless has asked city council to rezone the property, but the problem seems to be the shelter does not qualify under any of the city’s current zoning. Cheryl Ramos, city councilwoman and chair of the zoning and annexation committee, said a meeting will be scheduled to consider the matter, with the date and time posted on the city website at www.newphilaoh.com.

The current shelter at 211 E. High Ave. in New Philadelphia is housed in a 90-year-old structure. Connie Clark, a volunteer and fundraiser for the organization, described widespread deterioration in the building.

The proposed new facility will include 20 rooms for men, 20 for women and six family units, along with a dining hall and community rooms.

Rev. Joe Svancara, board president for Friends of the Homeless, said the current building cannot be renovated properly to solve the problems that currently exist. He said the structure is not ADA-compliant and is not built to any modern specifications.

The panel of board members and volunteers from Friends of the Homeless also fielded questions from the audience, many of which were acknowledged as legitimate concerns. Other concerns appeared to be due to a lack of understanding of how the shelter works.

Concerns stated by residents were as follows:

Fear that a shelter will attract drug addicts to the area

Calvin White, executive director of the current Friends of the Homeless shelter, said while some who come to the shelter for help are addicted, they are not criminals. It was stated the shelter provides drug and alcohol counseling and mental health services through the Wellmore Centre in New Philadelphia.

Worries about increased traffic

Panelists said traffic will be routed to an unused back road and should not cause a problem, as the current facility does not attract much vehicle traffic.

Part of the land is in a floodplain

Jeff Mathias, a local realtor who is helping find a new location for the shelter, said the shelter would be built on 2 acres that are not in the floodplain. However, at least one resident said he has pictures of the road the organization plans to use, and it floods often. Clark said she would be interested in seeing the photos.

Concerns the facility will be near East Elementary School

Mathias said New Philadelphia Superintendent Amy Wentworth sent a letter in support of the shelter being built on Beaver Avenue.

In a copy of the letter obtained by The Bargain Hunter, Wentworth offered support for the shelter as long as background checks are performed and no one is admitted who has a criminal background or record of being convicted or having pleaded guilty to any sex offense involving children.

A hand-out from the Friends of the Homeless said, “Background checks are performed on all potential guests. Sex offenders and those convicted of arson or violent crimes are not admitted. Guest belongings are inspected. Guests observe a 10 p.m. curfew.”

Lisa Meese, pastor at Preach the Word Ministries, was troubled no one had informed her about the plan to build the House of Hope right beside her church.

“We’re all for this homeless shelter,” she said. “I have an obligation and a responsibility for those people that go to this church. We have many children that attend here. I’m also worried because there’s also people wondering if their cars are going to get broken into.”

Why Beaver Avenue?

“We’ve gone to seven locations, and we’ve been shot down in seven locations,” Mathias said.

Amanda Fontana, a volunteer and board member, cited the need for shelter residents to have access to social and health services within walking distance as a reason to build within New Philadelphia.

In the end, while one resident who lives near the Beaver Avenue location said she would support the shelter if it were built there, another resident seemed to sum up the feelings of most of the area residents attending.

“There’s no question it’s needed, but not on Beaver Avenue.”