The winter of 2013-14 is far from over but has already been tough enough, with near-record cold snaps and plenty of snow. It’s been particularly hard on the 100 or so chronically homeless who, unless they find shelter somewhere, live on the streets in Traverse City.
Now Safe Harbor, an advocacy group that already provides a warm place to sleep and food for those with nowhere to go, wants to create a permanent shelter with year-round services for the homeless.
It’s a logical step the city should embrace. It is not without its challenges, but is a solution to a growing problem the city can’t ignore.
The proposed location — a 9,600-square-foot city owned building on 1.26 acres at 517 Wellington, one block south of Eighth Street — is about as good as it comes. The former Boys and Girls Club is in a mostly commercial area with few residential neighbors and is certainly large enough.
The 23 area churches that make up Safe Harbor take turns opening their doors to the homeless. That’s certainly generous, but not particularly efficient. The homeless have to find their way to that night’s shelter and the shelters’ support gear must be packed up and moved from site to site.
The rising number of homeless is another problem; it has grown from 31 per night in the winter of 2010-2011 to 64 this winter; the program recently hit a record high of 78. But only half of the host churches can comfortably house 65 or more people. So without a central home the group would have to operate two churches simultaneously next winter; right now, they don’t have enough volunteers to staff two locations.
City Mayor Michael Estes is concerned about the city getting into what he called “a new form of business here” and wants to look at alternatives “that are in the best interest of all city residents.”
He’s right. But Safe Harbor has proven it has the will to do this job with little or no city involvement; and there is little doubt city residents want the homeless situation dealt with, as proven during a citywide debate over the issue last year.
The residents of the nearby Boardman Neighborhood, two blocks to the north, must have a say. The Traverse City Film Festival, which is renting the building for storage space, has already said it supports the move.
This is a non-government solution to a pressing problem that won’t go away on its own. There are hurdles, but the goal is worth the effort.