[Hpn] Mega-Shelter Given OK
Thu, 16 Nov 2000 09:04:13 -0500 (EST)
The City Council over-turned the decision of the Planning Commission and
approved the Montgomery Community Center (AKA "The Palace of Homelessness").
$6 Million, damn few new services and the fragile neighborhood will be
overwhelmed by the estimated 1,000 round-trips a day by people using or
working at the facility. The organizers maintained a perfect record of
avoiding public discussion or input right up to the Council session. This
homeless Gulag, or the process that led to its creation, is not something our
town can be proud of.
Matt Parkhouse, RN
Colorado Springs, CO
Shelter OK'd after marathon session
By Eric Gorski/The Gazette
Edited by Mike Braham; headline by Jeanne Davant
At 3:40 a.m. Wednesday, at the end of one of the longest City Council
hearings ever, the American Red Cross and El Pomar Foundation won approval to
build a controversial $6 million center that will consolidate social services
for homeless people.
The 6-2 vote by the council capped a battle between nonprofit groups seeking
to better serve the city's homeless and residents east of the site who wanted
to preserve their working-class neighborhood.
The center will put a shelter, soup kitchen, medical clinic and other
services under one roof. El Pomar had pledged $5 million to build it.
The vote early Wednesday came after 17 hours of testimony. The council
overturned a Planning Commission vote in August rejecting the project.
The motion that passed requires organizers to make several concessions,
including removing an emergency overnight shelter. But an earlier motion to
eliminate the soup kitchen - something the neighborhood wanted and organizers
fought - was defeated, 5-3.
"The turns the project took over the last 12 hours were startling," Thayer
Tutt, El Pomar president, said after the hearing. "In the end, I think the
council made the right decision for the homeless, providers and the
Pam Perry, president of the Mill Street Neighborhood Association, the main
opposition group, said politics drove the council's decision to overturn the
Planning Commission's 5-1 vote.
"Nothing's changed," Perry said. "For them to overturn it, it's like instant
replay in football. Was there indisputable evidence that would have
overturned the call on the field? No."
Perry said the neighborhood won't sit by as the project moves ahead. Though
some opponents have raised the possibility of a lawsuit, Perry said she
thinks that's unlikely.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," she said. "But now we've just got to be a
part of making sure they get it done right."
The project's backers came Tuesday with a presentation meant to show broad
community support. Their speakers included street-level social service
workers, pastors, politicians and homeless people.
Current facilities are inadequate, and consolidation will save money and make
it more convenient for the homeless, they said.
Opponents said alternatives weren't explored, a crisis doesn't exist, the
center should be drastically reduced in size or limited to women and
children, and smaller "satellite" centers should be built across the city.
One opponent called the proposed center "a huge institutional gulag."
Though supporters agreed months ago to such steps as providing 24-hour
security in the neighborhood and putting in a shuttle system to cut down foot
traffic, neighbors said their concerns never were taken seriously.
Councilman Lionel Rivera's motion to cut the Marian House soup kitchen gave
them hope. Rivera said the soup kitchen would bring too much foot traffic to
the neighborhood. The Red Cross said cutting the kitchen would gut the
consolidated approach. The motion was defeated, with Richard Skorman and Leon
Young joining Rivera in the minority vote.
A few minutes later, Councilman Jim Null made a motion that called for
eliminating the emergency shelter from the proposal. The emergency shelter
would have been similar to the Marian House warming shelter, which operates
only in cold weather, but would have been open every day to serve about 30
people a night on a short-term basis. The planned Red Cross shelter will
serve longer-term residents.
Skorman opposed the campus approach, saying smaller, more personal service
would be more effective. The motion passed with Rivera and Skorman opposing.
Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, an early project supporter, said her decision to
vote for it was not "cut and dried."
"Yes, I support the shelter," she said. "But I also recognize the
neighborhood concerns, and I think we tried to mitigate those to a great
Mill Street resident William Robinson disagreed.
"From the beginning, El Pomar and the Red Cross have said it's all or
nothing," he said. "What they eliminated was not much."
Now, El Pomar and the Red Cross face a new challenge.
"We have a lot of work to do to show the neighborhood and the community that
we can make a positive impact," said David Morikawa, executive director of
the Red Cross.