[Hpn] Shelter Showdown FLORIDA

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 16 Jun 2005 09:13:48 -0400



Shelter's Showdown


A refuge in Hollywood for the homeless may face its death knell today in
court.

By John Holland
STAFF WRITER
Posted June 16 2005


HOLLYWOOD  He says he takes in people other shelters turn away. Chronically
homeless alcoholics, drug users, the deeply depressed and those unable or
unwilling to care for themselves.

Some sell newspapers and work as laborers, while others sit in dingy rooms
at Sean Cononie's homeless shelter, smoking cigarettes and sleeping their
days away. Women with children sometimes pass through, mingling with lifers
who have spent years there and don't plan on leaving anytime soon.

Today, a judge's ruling could drastically alter life at the shelter. The
city wants Cononie to stop providing homeless services at the North Federal
Highway shelter, claiming he violates zoning laws and has created a public
nuisance for years.

Cononie argued during a two-day trial earlier this month that he has every
right to keep operating.

Broward Circuit Judge Victor Tobin will hear closing arguments and is
expected to decide by day's end whether the shelter violates city zoning
laws.

The showdown comes as Hollywood is tossing millions of dollars at
developers, and the ramshackle concrete building and its downtrodden
clientele don't fit the city's upscale vision, both sides agree. It also
caps years of feuding between elected officials and Cononie.

His first operation, at the Jo-Lin apartments on Lincoln Street, opened
eight years ago, drawing frequent and substantiated complaints of homeless
people urinating on neighborhood lawns, fighting, drinking and doing drugs
outdoors.

Cosac Foundation, Cononie's nonprofit organization, bought the building at
1203 North Federal Highway three years ago, and the city immediately said
the shelter violated zoning laws. Cononie says the laws are vague at best,
and provide exceptions for his operation, which he describes as a mix of
motel and religious institution, both of which are permitted by city law.

"If the judge says we can't operate as a shelter, then we'll just operate
strictly as a motel," said Cononie, who houses 150 people a night. "But that
would be bad for everyone, because all of a sudden we wouldn't be able to
give these people the help and services they need."

City attorney Dan Abbott said Cononie's practices, including providing free
room and board for people with no cash and no prospects, are not
"consistent," with a hotel operation. Cononie, 40, also arranges medical and
mental health visits and provides transportation to local hospitals.

"If he were to keep the exact same clientele without providing any sort of
services, then, yes, he may be in compliance with the zoning," Abbott said.
"But that is not the type of operation he has run in the past."

While zoning questions remain, there is little debate over Cononie's effort.
He and colleagues say he practically lives at the shelter, and, according to
federal tax records, he has never been paid more than $16,000 in any year,
although the nonprofit group's annual revenues now approach $1.5 million.

Nearly all of Cosac's money comes from contributions, including distribution
of the Homeless Voice newspaper, which about one third of his clients sell
on street corners in most of Broward County as well as Wellington and
Boynton Beach in Palm Beach County.

He accepts no state or federal grants, and the shelter costs taxpayers
nothing.

Cononie's methods differ from almost every other facility in the county, and
he has drawn frequent criticism for using the homeless as low-cost employees
of his fund-raising enterprise. Most clients pay $24 per night to live at
the shelter, while some pay a flat rate of $455 per month and others live
free because they can't work and have no Social Security.

There are about 1,800 beds for the homeless in Broward County, meaning
Cononie serves about 10 percent of the population. While most centers are
geared toward helping people rejoin society and have strict rules, Cononie's
is far less structured. He said about one-third of his residents at any time
are physically or mentally incapable of working.

He can also be controlling, according to residents of his shelter. He holds
individual bank accounts for many of the clients, and rations the money
frugally to keep them from going on binges, he said. As of last week,
clients had saved about $69,000 in individual accounts.

One man who has frequently binged is William Robb, 40, a Brooklyn native who
has lived at the shelter for about 15 months. Cononie pays him $300 a week
to do all kinds of jobs, including managing the kitchen.

For now he is working for free, part of a three-month punishment Cononie
handed down after what Robb called his "latest screw-up." The offense?
Driving his motorcycle after drinking, and "borrowing" Cononie's car without
permission.

"I really don't know what I would have done without him," Robb said. "I'd
get by, because I've done that all my life, but I'm really worried about
some of the people here because they can't take care of themselves."

Cononie agrees with Hollywood officials that the Federal Highway building,
bought by Cosac for $1.3 million three years ago, isn't a great fit for the
city's new look. He said he's looked for other homes, including places in
Fort Lauderdale and Davie, without success.

"Listen, I can understand why someone wouldn't want to have a shelter
sitting beside their $1 million office building," Cononie said. "If the city
would sit down and try to come up with a solution that would work, I'd be
happy to listen. But they've never been serious."








Thanking You In Advance,

Sean Anthony Cononie
To see our documentary click below
http://www.homelessvoice.org/videos/homeless_dvd.wmv

TO VIEW OUR SHELTER LIVE
1. Copy and paste http://CafeCam.HomelessVoice.ourlinksys.com in Internet
Explorer.
2. Wait to be redirected to the homepage.
3. Click on "View Video".
4. Install Active X. (note: if active x promt does not pop up automatically,
it may be blocked

Shop on line and help the Homeless. Got to travel, make your plans @
WWW.HOMELESSVOICEMALL.COM

The Cosac Foundation
Operates the following Public Service Groups
Cosac's Homeland Security First Responders Planning Council
Educating People About Meningitis, Inc.www.meningitisawareness.org
Emergency Public Service Research and Strategic Planing Council
HPIA Disaster Services
Peoples United Nations, Inc
North American Alliance for International Aid
The National Coalition for the Missing and Exploited
DBA CME Foundation
The National Coalition Against Terrorism, Inc DBA Stop Hate Crimes USA
954-925-6466 ext 101
Fax 954-926-2022
Web www.homelessvoice.org

Directions to shelter: click or paste
http://www.homelessvoice.org/?p=homeless