advocates offer advice on politics of shelter siting FWD

Tom Boland (
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 19:08:36 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  The Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch -- July 22, 1998


     By Alice Thomas, Dispatch Staff Reporter

Homeless advocates trying to put shelters in new neighborhoods should
approach their opposition early, make concessions and avoid big public
meetings to air complaints, a group of advocates yesterday advised.

"Big meetings are dangerous for a variety of reasons,'' said Frank Noto,
vice president of Government Community Affairs, a private consulting group.

"A lot of activists are there to perform for their constituencies'' rather
than give good suggestions, said Noto, who added that supporters are likely
to keep quiet because they're outnumbered.

Noto joined three officials from Portland, Ore., to share with Columbus
homeless advocates various strategies for dealing with neighborhood
opposition to homeless shelters. The talk was hosted by the Community
Shelter Board, which pays for and does planning for local shelters.

Portland already has gone through what Columbus is now grappling with --
how and where the homeless should live.

"The parallels are very startling, right down to the river,'' said Bob
Durston, chief of staff for a Portland city commissioner.

Like Columbus, Portland had an old section of town near the river with a
high concentration of beds for the homeless abutting an area slated for

Columbus' high concentration is in Franklinton, just west of Downtown,
where a floodwall and the new Ohio's Center for Science and Industry are
expected to touch off development. Franklinton is the oldest, and among the
poorest, communities in Columbus.

In Portland, after a battle broke out between the business community and
homeless advocates -- which resulted in a bank pulling funding for a
proposed shelter -- the city came up with a plan "designed to be optimal --
not perfect,'' Durston said. Asked if the plan has put a dent in numbers of
homeless, Durston said, "I don't think so.''

The plan is focused on getting people permanent, or at least long- term
housing, with some incorporated in the same building as more traditional
homeless shelters.

The Scioto Peninsula Relocation Task Force, the group studying the issue
locally, is likely to recommend permanent housing -- along with social work
services -- be linked directly to homeless shelters.

Noto said finding common ground -- and making concessions -- helps calm
tensions. For example, shelters he's worked with have added special rooms
for smoking and shopping cart storage.

Rachael Silverman, Homeless Services Coordinator for the city of Portland,
said much can be learned from neighbors of homeless shelters.

"I really believe that the program is a little better with the neighborhood

Barbara Poppe, head of the shelter board, liked Portland's idea of shelters
making formal agreements with their neighbors to address issues of concern.

Poppe said she wishes funding for homeless services in Columbus had been
made contingent upon such neighborhood agreements.

Another key difference between Portland and Columbus shelters has also been
a flashpoint locally: homeless men who are drunk.

Here, they can go to the Open Shelter, 370 W. State St., to get off the
streets and dry out. The men then can go through medical detoxification at
Maryhaven, 1755 Alum Creek Dr., assuming there is space available.

In Portland, intoxicated homeless don't go to publicly funded shelters.
Instead, they dry out and detox in one location, which isn't a conventional

Kent Beittel, Open Shelter director, said the Open Shelter takes in drunks
because it's fulfilling its mission -- and a niche among the city's
shelters -- to serve the most vulnerable. But he says he's open to

"If the community comes up with a more palatable way to deal with persons
who are intoxicated, that's fine with me,'' he said. "Our issue is
including them.''

While the homeless task force is drawing up recommendations, The Open
Shelter is moving forward with plans to buy a building close to its
current, rented location.


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