LORAIN — The future of the city’s homeless population is up in the air after a heated Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Wednesday during which a permit for St. Joseph Overnight Homeless Shelter was tabled.
Patrick Gareau, president of Catholic Charities, said city officials are hurting the city’s homeless by tabling a request for a conditional-use permit for St. Joseph Overnight Homeless Shelter to operate in a new location at 205 West 14th St.
Safety Service Director Robert Fowler said that there are too many unanswered questions with Catholic Charities’ proposal to operate the shelter in the former Horizon Activities Center, which is in a residential area.
“We need to have a better understanding of what’s going to happen,” he said.
Catholic Charities, which operates the current 65-bed shelter on West 15th Street, proposed the new location due to the significant investment that would have to be put into the current property to bring it up to code, Gareau said.
“That building is over 100 years old. In order to invest in that building, you’re left with a significant investment that just isn’t ideal. . . . We’d rather invest in a building that will be around for years and years,” Gareau told Zoning Board of Appeals members Wednesday.
Catholic Charities was ordered to address a number of fire code violations, including a lack of sprinklers in the facility, since taking over the shelter when St. Joseph Church closed in 2010. The shelter’s occupancy permit was set to expire Nov. 4, but the city allowed the shelter to remain open through April 4 while Catholic Charities worked on a plan.
Gareau said Catholic Charities was directed to the former Horizon building by a member of the Lorain Development Corporation. He criticized city officials, whom he said haven’t responded to multiple phone calls regarding the property.
“If they don’t act and help make this a reality, there will be no place for the homeless in October,” he said.
Residents, some of whom have used St. Joseph’s services, also criticized the city at Wednesday’s meeting for not approving the permit.
“They have no real reason for declining,” said Lorain resident Kate Downie. “I am worried. They are denying human rights.”
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, said he’s been working with Catholic Charities to find a solution, even extending its permit at West 15th Street so that the homeless could have a place to stay during the cold winter months.
“There was no call to talk about what was going to be done … the city has not been brought up to speed,” he said. “What I don’t want to see is where they move into a new building and have the same problems as they have had at the old building.”
Ritenauer said that he would like to quickly come to a compromise with Catholic Charities and hopes to set up a meeting with the agency prior to the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting next month in which the issue is scheduled to be discussed.