April 19, 2014

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Lorain Zoning Board postpones decision on homeless shelter

LORAIN — The city Zoning Board postponed a decision on a variance that would allow the St. Joseph homeless shelter to stay open year-round instead of only during the winter.

At a sometimes-emotional meeting attended by about 70 people Wednesday morning, community members and city officials expressed their support for the shelter, run by Catholic Charities in the former St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church at 317 W. 15th St.

Lorain Safety/Service Director R. Michael Fowler said approving the variance could cause the shelter to be under the jurisdiction of the State Fire Marshal’s office, leading to more code requirements. And if the shelter were cited by the state for a code violation, the fines could cause it to shut down entirely, he said.

“Let’s figure out what needs to be done and what the costs are,” Fowler said.

He stressed that the board supports keeping the shelter open year-round.

“The city of Lorain needs this service,” he said.

The St. Joseph homeless shelter, which has existed since 1995, has been operating under temporary 30-day permits since March 2010, when the Cleveland Catholic Diocese closed the parish.

Deacon Lou Maldonado, program director for the shelter, said many of the people who stay in the shelter have lost their jobs and their homes. He also said that it is in a central area, making it possible for people to walk to some of the services they need.

Mary Zelek, who runs a flower shop at 10th Street and Reid Avenue, described the shelter as “a good neighbor.”

But Zelek said that when the shelter is closed in the summer, she’s found people sleeping in her garage and backyard.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a shelter at all,” she said, “But the fact is, there are a lot of homeless people that need help.”

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said he knows the shelter faces challenges, but said he wanted to see the services it provides become uninterrupted.

“If we’re going to have a homeless shelter, it needs to be a year-round shelter,” he said.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera said the Police Department supports the shelter and said keeping it open would benefit the community.

“If you look at it from the perspective of the homeless, they need to be protected,” Rivera said.

Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at 329-7123 or kfischer@chroniclet.com.