As of Friday those interested in ensuring that there is a men’s cold weather shelter this season have 139 days to make it happen, and the issue continues to roil the community.
A proposal to house the shelter, the Stone Soup meal service and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center at a single location on Southwest Second Street was unveiled May 7, but it has sparked controversy because many community members think it is a bad idea to site the three services downtown. Nevertheless, officials at the Drop-in Center still hope to move in by July 1.
Shawn Collins, project manager with the Housing Opportunities Action Council, plans to address the City Council on the proposal to locate the three services at the same location during Monday’s public hearing on the city’s 2018-19 budget.
(The Housing Opportunities Action Council is a coalition of social service agencies and other community groups charged with implementing Benton County’s 10-year-plan to address homelessness; Benton County Commissioner Anne Schuster and Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber are the council's co-chairs.)
The city has $60,000 in the budget plan to help pay for the men’s homeless shelter but councilors have not decided how to allocate it.
Engineer and downtown building owner Catherine Mater has suggested using the old Flomatcher industrial site just east of the Willamette River. Mater conducted a tour of the site May 25 and wrote a letter to the council urging it to give her a chance to present a fleshed-out proposal. By not acting at its June 4 meeting to allocate the $60,000 to the Second Street group, the council signaled a willingness to hear her out.
A third option for the men’s shelter would be to return to the old Hanson Tire Factory building on Southeast Chapman Place, where the homeless shelter was located this past winter season. Challenges there include the fact that the owner of the building, Devco Engineering, intends to move some of its operations there, and the price tag, $1.45 million, is likely to scare off buyers.
Siting the shelter on Chapman also would reopen the issue of the impact of shelter operations on the First Alternative Co-op’s south store. In a series of early-morning Facebook posts last weekend, Benton County Commissioner Schuster said that the co-op would move if the shelter returned to the Hanson building.
Not so, said co-op general manager Cindee Lolik. But she did note in Facebook posts of her own and in an email exchange with the Gazette-Times that the shelter had a much greater effect on store operations than was previously known.
“Contrary to the conversations currently being offered to some members of the community the shelter impact was negative on our business and community last year, but since we were assured that this was a one-and-done, we chose not to complain but to deal internally with the daily theft and disturbances that occurred because of the proximity of the shelter,” Lolik wrote.
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A total of 32 Corvallis Police Department service calls involving the shelter came from the co-op during the shelter’s Nov. 1 through March 31 operations, Lolik said.
Problems itemized by Lolik included disturbances in the parking lot and in the store, a consistent theft of alcohol and a decline in dinner-hour customers in the café area because shelter clients would gather there as they waited for the shelter to open.
“We literally watched customers drive away when they encountered obviously drunken and drugged folks staggering in the parking lot in the early evening hours before the doors of the shelter opened,” Lolik said.
If the shelter returns to Hanson, Lolik said, “the co-op would ask for concessions as to when the shelter opened and the rules surrounding it in order to best serve our customers, staff and our business. We would also see a need for security to be provided to keep the co-op accessible to our customers without fear of panhandling or negative encounters with the shelter clients.
“Our managers cannot continue to be pressed into being the security detail dealing with incidents related to the shelter. We are grocers. The truth of the matter is when the shelter closed this spring our staff breathed a large sigh of relief.”
And although Hanson appears to be the third choice for a shelter location at this point, it remains to be seen how Lolik’s comments will affect public opinion on the shelter proposals. The conventional wisdom was that the shelter season at Hanson was a much better managed one than those of the previous four years on Southwest Fourth Street.
Lolik’s comments tell a different story.
Schuster, meanwhile, apologized “to those who think I am not supportive of the many wonderful agencies and dedicated people working to help those of us who are less fortunate. I am supportive."
But she didn't back off her opposition to the Second Street site.
"My complaint is that of location," she wrote. "I don’t think services should be downtown next to many of our thriving businesses. There are alternatives. We just need to find one that works for all.”
In 139 days.