CARBONDALE — The operative word during Tuesday night’s debate was “but.”
“I applaud what you are doing, but...” Deborah Burress told the Carbondale City Council during a lengthy public comment on a resolution to grant a permit for a temporary warming shelter for the homeless, slated to go at 800 E. Main Street.
Burress and several business owners in the area came to warn the council that they feared the placement of the warming center there would increase harassment of their customers and make their portion of town unseemly.
"It’s going to be open to anybody who can’t be served at other shelters in Southern Illinois," the director of Good Samaritan Ministries said.
“So a parade of (shopping) carts,” Burress asked the council, suggesting that an onslaught of homeless persons would descend on Carbondale’s main artery, Highway 13, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., when the center is closed.
A coalition of civic groups and churches have worked for the last three years to find a place to open a temporary shelter, expanding Carbondale’s network of beds for those experiencing housing insecurity. It is projected that the facility could house as many as 24 people.
During the council’s debate of the issue Tuesday, it was brought to light that countless parcels of land were considered, SIU was consulted, and even the City Hall itself was considered, but all presented zoning issues, namely a close proximity to a park, school or daycare facility. These locations have a 500 foot buffer that is to be free from those on the sex offender registry.
Councilman Jeff Doherty raised an objection to the location of the center early in the evening. He, too, had a "but" to add: He saw the need, but said that as he read the city’s code, the addition of construction trailers to the lot would violate its designation as a secondary-use property, which bars mobile homes.
He said this would need a special use permit and would have to go back to committee to get that to happen.
Councilman Adam Loos said this was unacceptable. He pointed out that this would push the timeline for the project into March and the facility is scheduled to close for the season in April.
Loos said “persnickety” objections could cause people to freeze in the cold.
Others on the council pointed out that carnivals are often approved all over the city, and these come with trailers for carnival workers to sleep in while in town. They asked how the construction trailers were any different.
Councilman Navreet Kang also expressed concern for the impact on businesses and subverting the city’s code. He agreed with Doherty that the issue should be resolved through all the proper channels.
Councilman Carolin Harvey appealed to the council’s humanity.
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“Think about those people we try not to see,” she said.
Michael Hess took the podium to tell his story. He told the council that he has been in and out of homelessness in Carbondale for many years, he was staying Tuesday night in a local hotel, and said the need is great for more beds during the cold months.
CARBONDALE — It's about 10 p.m., the dark obscuring the faces huddled outside the building.
“I think that we should at least have the opportunity to get something going,” he said. He added that there should to be a place for people to lay their head and get a few hours of decent sleep.
Mike Wright owns a small shopping center near the proposed warming center and he said he and his employees have to ask homeless persons to leave several times a day, and seemed to blame the breaking of his storefront’s windows on vagrant persons.
Wright also asked the question of what they would do during the hours the facility was not open, and expressed concern with the nearby Thomas School.
However, it was pointed out that the proposed warming center would not suddenly create more homeless people.
Diana Brawley Sussman is the director of the Carbondale Public Library and has been part of the organizing committee for the shelter. She said after the meeting that if businesses in this part of town already have problems with the homeless, they aren’t likely to see an increase — and having more places for people to sleep could actually help.
“That is a valid concern. But, if we deal with this issue collaboratively by developing a solution which provides adequate sleeping space, then the burden on individual businesses, people and organizations can be reduced, hopefully making the situation more tenable and survivable for everyone,” she told the council.
Before the matter went to a vote, Loos spoke once more. Addressing the business people who spoke against the warming center he suggested doing more “passing the hat,” and stepping up to help more directly.
“Give them a ride if you don’t want your eyes offended,” he said to an objection about long lines of homeless people making their way to and from the center.
He then pointed to Hess, who was in the audience, and questioned if others would relegate him to freezing outdoor conditions.
“Do you want to look him in the eyes and tell him?”
The measure passed with a vote of 5-to-2 — Kang and Doherty were the sole nays.
Brawley Sussman said after the meeting that the project for this season is about 70 percent funded, and buildings are being ordered and staff are being trained.
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