The city of Waupaca’s Plan Commission wants more information about how warming shelters operate in other communities before it takes action on a request from Foundations For Living to open one here.
“I think we are all naive if we think there aren’t homeless people or people needing help (here),” Mayor Brian Smith said during the Jan. 8 meeting of the city’s Plan Commission.
On the agenda that evening was a request from Robin Madson, executive director of Foundations For Living Inc., for a special use permit to open a warming shelter at 1421 Churchill St.
The non-profit transitional living agency moved from Ruby’s Pantry on Tenth Street into the former Clean Energy building on Churchill Street the end of November. It rents the building from Jason M. and Nicole E. McCune (Johnson).
The organization wants to provide a temporary overnight shelter in the building for people who are homeless.
“It would just be an overnight facility. They would come in at a certain time at night and leave at a certain time in the morning,” Madson said.
The proposed warming shelter would have room for up to 18 adults. The agency does not plan to open the shelter to children.
There would not be any permanent beds.
Those who stayed at the shelter would sleep on cots. They would be given pillows and blankets, a meal in the evening and a light breakfast in the morning, she said.
“There isn’t any shelter here for people without homes. I know sometimes they beg, steal from friends. Some hang out at the hospital. Others break the law to go to jail,” Madson said in explaining her request for the special use permit.
On a day in which the temperature was again well below zero, she said, “In weather like this, there is no place to go. It’s needed.”
Her request was the subject of a public hearing which was held prior to the Plan Commission meeting.
During the approximately 20-minute hearing, she explained why she believes there is a need for a local warming shelter, while those who own businesses in that area of the city expressed concerns about the idea.
The Plan Commission, at the recommendation of city staff, tabled action on the request until February.
“We have had inquiries from people in the city. Staff is also reaching out to other communities. There are concerns staff has. We want a better understanding of how communities regulate it,” said Brennan Kane, the city’s development director.
Kane said the property on Churchill Street is zoned light industrial. A warming shelter is a permitted use in that zoning classification with a special use permit, he said.
He also said the owner of the property (the Johnsons) have to sign off on the application for the special use permit.
“I have spoken with him. He does not have a problem with the use,” Kane said.
During the public hearing, there were questions about whether the property taxes are up to date on the property and if that could have ramifications for Foundations For Living’s plan.
According to Michael Mazemke, Waupaca County’s register of deeds, the property was deeded to Jason and Nicole McCune (Johnson) in 2011 as a land contract and is delinquent in taxes for 2012, owing $3,133 in back taxes.
Serving the homeless
Those who own businesses in that neighborhood want to know how many homeless people there are in Waupaca, what hours the warming shelter would be open and whether people would be coming to Waupaca from other communities if a shelter opened in the city.
The Plan Commission told Madson to find out how many homeless people are in Waupaca.
Lauri Wenninger, pastoral minister at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community, said she sees people in need of vouchers for gas and food.
“Last week, we had someone driving around in a car all night because he had no place to go,” she said.
She is also a teacher who works with those who are in the Waupaca County Jail. When someone has no place to go, she tries to help by calling the Salvation Army in Stevens Point or by checking facilities in Appleton.
Wenninger also calls Madson in such instances to see if she can help.
In addition to questions about the number of homeless people in the community, some, such as Ald. Alan Kjelland, urged the Plan Commission to gather more information before making a decision.
He called it “unfortunate” that the proposal from Foundations For Living is for a warming shelter for adults only, saying the facilty would then not be an option for a homeless teenaged boy or a mother with a child.
Angie Wanty is a city resident who owns the office building next to Foundations for Living’s new site.
Among her tenants is a dance studio, and Wanty expressed concerns with losing tenants if a warming shelter opens next door.
Julie Javoroski owns Julie’s Crystal Lounge at 1332 Churchill St. and said, “The neighbors are very concerned. I wish the city council would give it some thought before it goes through.”
Annette McPeak, of Crystal Travel, said, “We are getting a lot (of services) on our side of town.”
The Waupaca Area Food Pantry is located on Churchill Street, and Ruby’s Pantry is located in that same neighborhood.
She said multiple businesses would be affected if the request for the special use permit is granted.
The Plan Commission will make a recommendation to the Common Council.
Before the Plan Commission meets next month, Kane is visiting Appleton’s shelter. He has also done research about Green Bay’s shelter.
In comparing cities, the mayor also asked Kane to look at how area communities similar in size to Waupaca handle the issue.
Smith said he is sympathetic to both Madson in what she wants to do and to the residents and businesses in that neighborhood.
“You’re moving something in that wasn’t there. It would be a major adjustment to the property owners,” he said. “I can see where they are nervous about that. We need to weigh that.”
Smith said the city needs to determine what the best location would be for a warming shelter.
In making her request, Madson also has to decide whether Foundations For Living is seeking a special use permit for an overnight shelter which would operate only in the winter or year around.
She said her first thought was a shelter would only be needed during the fall and winter. However, Madson said someone from a local church told her the church receives more requests for help during the summer.
“Lots of times, people who are homeless go from couch to couch to couch. It’s different than what you see in larger cities,” Madson said.
She said people who are homeless here stay with people they know.
When Plan Commission member Kay Lutze asked Madson where homeless people go during the day, Madson said, “Honestly, a lot of people hang out here (at the library).”
She said others go to different places, such as stores.
Madson also told those in attendance that before going to City Hall for the public hearing, she took a woman with a 7-month-old baby to the Village Inn because the woman had no place to go.
Javoroski said she is not a heartless person and would help anyone.
“It’s sad about people in this predicament, but we are looking out for the businesses and neighbors and hope the city council takes that into account,” she said.
Kane said the city cannot prohibit such a use within the community but can regulate where it operates within the city limits.
A request may be denied for a specific location if there are concerns about public safety and health, he said.
“You can regulate where it goes, but you cannot prohibit a specific use,” Kane said. “You can deny for a specific location. The applicant could then request a different location.”
In addition, since it is a special use request, the city may include conditions as to the number of people allowed to stay in the shelter, the hours of operation and whether the facilty is open year around.
Madson said a number of people would staff the warming shelter, ideally with three different shifts.
When she asked where such a shelter would be allowed if the special use permit is not granted for the Churchill Street location, Kane said he could look at where it would be allowed under zoning classifications.
The mayor told the members of the Plan Commission do their due diligence by driving around the neighborhood where it is being considered, looking at the area and talking to the tenants of the office building next door.