Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 10, 2014

Editorial: Shelter ordinance can't be a long-term solution

There’s just no ignoring the growing number of homeless living on the streets in Traverse City. It’s a problem with no easy solution.

Playing hardball and throwing people in jail won’t work. Pretending they’re not here won’t work. Running them out of town won’t work. Whatever other faults Traverse City may have, getting tough on the homeless in an effort to drive them away isn’t one of them.

So it is that the Traverse City Commission voted 5-2 to adopt a new zoning ordinance that paves the way for a 100-bed emergency shelter but also opens the door to new and existing transitional housing operations.

In the short term, that decision will do great things for the homeless and the people who care for them. It will allow Safe Harbor, which has for years offered overnight shelter to those in need, to create a large and relatively permanent shelter in a vacant warehouse owned by the city.

Until now, Safe Harbor — a coalition of more than 20 local churches — has rotated its overnight shelter among member churches. That’s a daunting task that takes a load of volunteer effort to move equipment from church to church, some of which are ill-suited to the task.

Although the issue has to come back twice more before the commission, it appears to be a done deal. The city will have to negotiate a contract with Safe Harbor for use of the building and grant them a special-use zoning permit, but the first hurdle has been cleared.

Instead of seeing this as a solution, however, the city, Safe Harbor and the many other volunteer and professional groups that deal with the homeless must take this as the start to finding a wider, more comprehensive solution.

Residents and business owners near the city-owned warehouse on Wellington Street just south of Eighth Street have complained loud and long to the commission that concentrating a permanent shelter in their neighborhood will lead to business failures and lower property values.

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