December 18, 2014

Elyria
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St. Joseph’s homeless shelter to remain open

LORAIN — The St. Joseph Overnight Homeless Shelter, whose occupancy permit was set to expire at midnight Monday, will remain open through April 4, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The 65-bed shelter at 317 W. 15th St. in the former St. Joseph Hospital, lacks a sprinkler system in violation of Lorain’s fire code. Ritenauer previously said Lorain would be liable if Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Cleveland, which runs the shelter, didn’t install sprinklers and address other code violations, such as a lack of egress.

Ritenauer said after the meeting that Catholic Charities repeatedly had been warned to make improvements, since taking over the shelter when the hospital closed in 2010. The most recent warnings came at a March 7 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, according to meeting minutes provided by Ritenauer.

While Ritenauer said Catholic Charities had been slow to respond, an agreement was reached Monday. It requires Catholic Charities and the Fire Department to devise a plan within 14 days to address code violations.

“The plan has to be put in place,” Ritenauer said. “But, in the meantime, those that are most vulnerable in our community are not going to be left outside.”

John Klee, Catholic Charities director of emergency and specialized services, said he was pleased an agreement was reached. “I’m very happy for the folks who otherwise would’ve been out on the streets and in the cold,” he said.

Klee said his organization has been responsive to Lorain’s concerns, spending about $60,000 in improvements, including installing fire alarms and a fire suppression system in the shelter kitchen. Catholic Charities would’ve had to spend between $300,000 and $850,000 to meet code requirements to be open year round, he said.

Ritenauer, who mistakenly said Sunday that the shelter would be inspected Monday by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said the inspection was conducted by the Lorain Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office. Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal Jeff Fenn said a report on the inspection hadn’t been completed Monday and referred all other comments to Ritenauer.

While extending the permit, Ritenauer said Catholic Charities remained liable for building safety. Ritenauer, who said city officials consulted with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said expanding fire watch patrols in the shelter by Catholic Charities workers would help address problems.

Klee said Catholic Charities hopes to relocate the shelter to the former Horizon Activities Center, 213 W. 14th St. and open in October. Lorain holds the mortgage on the building and an agreement would have to be negotiated for the move to occur.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.