October 25, 2014

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St. Joe homeless shelter could close Monday

St. Joseph Homeless Shelter may be closing its doors at midnight Monday  because of disputes with the city over fire codes. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

St. Joseph Homeless Shelter may be closing its doors at midnight Monday because of disputes with the city over fire codes. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

LORAIN — The city is sympathetic to the plight and mission of the 18-year-old St. Joseph Overnight Homeless Shelter on West 15th Street, but says it’s time for the facility to rectify fire code violations, including a lack of sprinklers that is making it unsafe for those staying there.

“I completely support the mission of Catholic Charities and so does the city,” Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Thursday. “I’m Catholic myself. I get it.

“This is a matter of having a safe and habitable place for homeless people to go,” Ritenauer added.

As a midnight Monday deadline looms for possible shuttering of the shelter, Ritenauer said the situation has been ongoing “for at least seven years.”

“The state (fire marshal) has told us the city bears the liability if something happens there and we can’t have that,” Ritenauer said. “We can’t allow people to be there if we know it’s against code.”

But Catholic Charities officials contend they were told in September 2010 by city officials that a sprinkler system was not required, only to have that position reversed in another meeting in March 2012 when the shelter again sought and was denied a zoning variance to operate.

About $60,000 in upgrades have been made at the shelter in recent years and weeks to the fire alarm system, lighting and plumbing, according to Patrick Gareau, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Cleveland.

The Oct. 7 Lorain Fire Department citations for lack of sprinklers came as something of a shock, Gareau said.

“The administration has said we knew for years that we needed sprinklers but we were inspected every month and in 20 consecutive inspections, there were no fire code violations until Oct. 7,” Gareau said.

The shelter may be forced to tell the 45 men, 11 women and one teenaged girl staying there that they will have to find other arrangements as of midnight Monday.

“Right now, the plan is to allow them to come in at 5 p.m. (the shelter’s opening time) like normal and provide a hot meal, availability of showers, and let them have time to do their laundry,” shelter official Lou Maldonado, a deacon with St, Joseph Church, said.

But he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Still, he doesn’t hold out a lot of hope things will change by the deadline.

“Nothing has really changed since 2010,” Maldonado said of the shelter, which has a capacity of 66, with 50 beds for men in the church and 16 for women in the rectory.

Ritenauer said he also hopes some kind of interim solution can be hammered out between the city, Catholic Charities and state fire marshal officials, who will inspect the shelter again next week.

The situation dates to September 2010 when, according to Gareau, the city proposed keeping the shelter open on a month-by-month basis after Catholic Charities officials said they planned to close the center.

Both sides worked out an agreement to continue operating the facility during winter months in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Gareau further contends the Oct. 7 citations run contrary to statements made by Zoning Board of Appeals officials in March 2012 when Catholic Charities tried to obtain a variance and were told if a variance was granted the shelter would then be under the jurisdiction of state fire codes requiring installation of a sprinkler system and other improvements.

And, as a result, the shelter would then have to close for lack of having that equipment in place.

“That put us in a Catch-22-type situation,” Gareau said.

Ritenauer could not be reached for further comment in regard to Gareau’s statements.

The city holds a mortgage on the Horizons site, the owner of which has continued to make payments on that mortgage, which are going into the city’s general fund.

Ritenauer said the city is willing to consider a trade of properties but can’t afford to go into the red.

The mayor said Catholic Charities offer of $100,000 needs to be increased.

“We can’t ask City Council to forget about the loan on that property,” Ritenauer said. “We’re trying to divest ourselves of real estate we (the city) own and need to do that in a way in which we don’t end up taking a loss.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.


  • CharlesMartel732

    If you want a renaissance in the downtown area, move the homeless shelter somewhere else. I’m partial to closing it permanently. The ‘homeless’ have turned the entire downtown area into an extended shelter. If Lorain is going to move forward this problem has to be taken care of.

    • therest_ofthestory

      THERE’S that so-called Christian charity! I knew you wouldn’t let me down! You’re something else! lol

      • Tom

        We all know the Diocese have deep pockets. If they wanted to, they could open a Ritz-Carlton in downtown Lorain for the homeless.

      • CharlesMartel732

        Ever drive around downtown? See the ‘homeless’ sleeping in doorways, drinking in alleys, urinating in the middle of the street, standing in the road refusing to move? Fighting in the bus stop? How about the library where they migrate after the shelter puts them out? How many times have you been to JGT plaza and been called filthy names because you refuse to give one of the homeless some of your change?

        Don’t want to go to the library because of the drunks, the drugs and the fights?

        The vast majority of the homeless are homeless because they choose to be. Because they have alcohol or drug addiction. In my opinion enabling them by giving them free shelter, food and money is not Christian charity. And it’s ruining the downtown area for business and the people who live in the area.

    • Phil Blank

      You wouldn’t believe how many cities did the following.
      Search “city gave bus ticket to homeless”
      A lot of them did!

  • Tom

    How about you don’t just move the homeless away form the city, how about moving jobs into the city and there will be less homeless people?

    • stillsleepyeyes

      That means they would actually have to do something besides hide behind gardwennies cloak………………

  • stillsleepyeyes

    Gotta love the mayor………..can’t have them live where the codes aren’t met…………….hmm how’s those abandon buildings they will probably end up in gonna work for that code……………you hand out monies everywhere else and to all your buddies that don’t pay it back……………but you can’t find no monies for some sprinkler help…………….try the water fund……….you use it for everything else………..why not use it to actually help someone else besides your own………

  • Joe Sandor

    Too bad, but fire laws are laws. They are meant for the safety of those within the building, as well as the structure nearby. Maybe an “Angel Investor” (no pun intended) will surface and subsidize the shelter.

  • oldruss

    What’s wrong with the homeless getting a job? There’s work available through the United Farms Workers of America Take My Job. http://www.ufw.org/toj_play/TOJNEW_12_JAL.html
    Let the City give them all a one-way bus ticket to Fresno.

  • John Boy

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the reason they are closing a homeless shelter is because it is unsafe. It’s not unsafe because of faulty electrical wiring, or because the walls are falling in, it’s unsafe because of a lack of a sprinkler system. “This is a matter of having a safe and habitable place for homeless people to go,” Ritenauer added. Where does he think these people are going to be moving when they leave the shelter? I’m sure living in the stoop of a building is much safer than living in a building without a sprinkler system.

  • Mike Suhar

    When a Bishop in Limberg, Germany can spend 40 million €uro on a luxury residence for himself, why can’t the Catholic church spend some money to get the shelter up to code?

  • James Coleman

    Shame on you Mayor Rippoffeveryhour and Director Foul-error.
    You are Catholics in name only. How about trading your tax payer owned vehicles in and drive a Ford Focus with 200,000 miles on it like the Pope does.
    Catholic bashers unite in ignorance…without the assistance of Catholic aid, support and financial assistance your urban areas would not be able to handle
    those who need assistance.
    With this attitude Downtown Lorain will continue to spiral downward.