TRAVERSE CITY — Leaders of local churches that provide winter shelter to the homeless asked city commissioners to give them a city-owned warehouse on Wellington Street to use as a permanent shelter.
A building at 517 Wellington, one block south of Eighth Street, previously housed the Boys and Girls Club, but now is being rented for $1 a month by the Traverse City Film Festival and used for storage. Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse is a group of 23 churches that provides overnight shelter on a rotating basis. The group proposes to convert the 9,600-square-foot building on 1.26 acres into a permanent shelter. The facility would provide year-round services for people who live on the street, including a "drunk tank" for those who arrive under the influence of alcohol.
Commissioners will discuss the proposal during a study session today at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.
"It's centrally located, would fit our needs, and it could be available," said Ryan Hannon, chairman of the Safe Harbor steering committee and street outreach coordinator for Goodwill Industries. "It would allow the churches to rotate though one building instead of rotating buildings."
Safe Harbor has housed record numbers of homeless this winter, and on Jan. 22 hit its all-time high in its 10 years of operation when 77 people sought shelter, Hannon said.
"We would never turn anybody away, but some of our smaller churches are reaching their comfortable capacity," Hannon said.
Jerry Sisemore, minister of Traverse City Church of Christ, just finished a week when his congregation hosted the homeless at another church.
"These people have literally fallen through the cracks in our community," Sisemore said. "If you go there any night and visit, you'll meet these people who are very grateful not to be out there in zero-degree weather."
Sisemore said it would be great to have one central location so the homeless don't have to be transported and the shelters' support gear packed up and moved from site-to-site.
Traverse City Film Festival officials are also supportive, said Deb Lake, the Festival's executive director.
"We are really glad and are really excited about their plans to improve services for the homeless in our area and we are looking forward to working with them and the city for the best possible solution," Lake said.
The area is mostly commercial, but there are some residential homes on Eighth Street and to the north is the Boardman Neighborhood. Hannon said he hasn't approached any neighbors, yet but he has spoken to some city commissioners who have been supportive.
But Mayor Michael Estes said he has several concerns.
"I'm really not sure the city should get into a new form of business here, which is essentially what we are being asked to do," Estes said. "I want to see the alternatives fully explored, and it's unfortunate we didn't explore them before we had the arrangement with the Film Festival."
Estes said the property sits in a good location, just a stone's throw from the Eighth Street Corridor the city wants to redevelop. If the city doesn't have a current use or future use for the property it should consider putting it back on the tax rolls as opposed to "giving it away" for $1 a month, he said.
"As we look at alternatives, we should look at alternatives that are in the best interest of all city residents," Estes said.