Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 28, 2014

City wants more info on homeless shelter plan

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.

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