TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners invited a group of churches to make a formal proposal to convert a city-owned warehouse into a homeless shelter.
Commissioners Jim Carruthers, Gary Howe and Tim Werner spoke in favor of the request from Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse. The balance of the commission agreed to consider the request to lease the building for the sum of $1 a month.
Safe Harbor officials propose to convert the 9,600-square-foot building on Wellington Street one block south of Eighth Street into a permanent overnight shelter and year-round drop-in facility providing showers, laundry facilities, and meals to the street homeless.
“It’s an ideal location in my mind for a homeless shelter,” Werner said.
The building previously housed the Boys and Girls Club and sits in a mostly commercial area that backs up to the city sewage treatment plant on the south. But the plan drew mixed reaction from residents in the Boardman Neighborhood two blocks to the north.
“My phone started ringing early this morning and it rang all day long,” said Elizabeth Whelan, president of the Boardman Neighborhood Association. “We had people for it and against. Most people wanted more information. This kind of came out of nowhere.”
Safe Harbor is a group of 23 churches that provides overnight shelter on a rotating basis to the homeless. The organization is at a “boiling point,” said spokesman Peter Starkel.
The average number of guests has grown from 31 people in the winter of 2010-2011 to 64 this winter and recently hit a record-high of 78, according to documents provided the commission. But just about half of the host churches can comfortably house 65 or more people.
Starkel said without a central home the group would have to operate two churches simultaneously next winter but they don’t have enough volunteers to staff two churches.
“There is no perfect place for a homeless shelter,” Starkel said. “As far as not in my backyard ... this is the best location we’ve found and we’ve been looking for two-and-a-half years.”
Safe Harbor officials want a five-year lease and the right of first refusal should the city decide to sell the property.
City commissioners requested greater detail of how Safe Harbor would operate and the extent of services they intend to provide at the location. They also asked city staff to compare the Safe Harbor request against other possible future uses for the building.
The property requires a zoning change to be used as a homeless shelter and Safe Harbor has to establish itself as a corporate non-profit before the city could enter into any agreement.