Having attended [Wednesday's] community meeting surrounding the proposed homeless shelter, I came away with a number of observations, many of which I feel are getting lost among the shouting. While I've sent these thoughts to many of the interested parties and elected officials, I thought you might be interested as well.
Firstly, I should say that I do appreciate the willingness of Mr. Hess and Mr. Zablocki to appear. I'm not sure many in the room shared that sentiment. I was, I'll admit, dismayed at times by the unchecked anger of the crowd. I was a bit afraid that the presenters would not be able to get a fair shake from the community. However, having listened to the woefully insufficient answers (and, let's face it, non-answers) given by the speakers, it quickly became clear that if they weren't going to get a fair shake, it would be solely because they were not extending a hand with which to do so.
I'd like to take issue with something Mr. Zablocki said during the meeting regarding the security protocol for the proposed shelter. At first, he was quick to stress that the building would have a strict 10 o'clock curfew, a statement weakened almost immediately by his admission that the curfew would, in fact, be voluntary (which would make it, what's the word? Oh, that's right: Not a curfew). His rationale, as best as I could understand, was as follows: If a resident of the shelter showed up later than the 10 o'clock curfew, there's a chance that their bed might have already been given away. If this was the case, that resident would need to sit around while the shelter contacted the Department of Homeless Services, which would then have to comb through the system, find an available bed for the resident, and send a van for them to be transported to the new facility.
Mr. Zablocki posited that this sitting around and waiting would present a compelling motivation for the residents to be back in the shelter by 10 o'clock. I've got to say that I disagree. While, in some cases, Mr. Zablocki may be right, I would contend that a resident who showed up past ten and faced a long, arduous waiting period would be far more compelled to simply say, "I have to wait how long? Forget it. I'll just spend the night on the street." Mr. Zablocki seems to believe that this curfew (which, again, is more like a cur-faux), should in some way assuage the community's concerns. It seems far more likely that the policy would lead to far more individuals choosing to roam the neighborhood rather than dealing with the bureaucracy.
One other thing that was apparent was the level of confidence Mr. Hess had in his proposal. While some measure of this was clearly expected (were he not confident in the proposal, he wouldn't have pitched it), it was the certainty with which he spoke of the shelter's future. And, with some examination, why wouldn't he?
As anyone who's run a small business knows, money is always a a premium. One might imagine this might also be the case (even, perhaps, more so) in the case of a non-profit, such as Aguila. To make the decision to invest in the process of moving beds into the facility — a decision that presumably involved the cost of the beds and accompanying items themselves, the manpower required for their setup, the costs associated with their transportation (the use/depreciation of trucks and equipment, fuel cost, etc.) — was surely not done without careful consideration. As such, it stands to reason that an organization would be loathe to commit to that sort of investment unless they knew that the result already predetermined. That notion was continually reinforced by Mr. Hess, who often spoken in terms like, "Once we're in, we have every intention of being a good neighbor," and the like. Despite Mr. Zablocki noting that this process is still under review, having listened to Mr. Hess, one was simply unable to leave the meeting thinking that the outcome of this proposal was simply fait accompli.
This, I believe, represents a major source of the community's outrage. While, certainly, there were individuals at the meeting whose fears, prejudices, or judgements would lead them to oppose any sort of shelter in the community, I don't believe them to be the majority. In between the screams of the incensed, there were many who raised important questions and who voiced truly valid concerns. Most if not all in the room would agree that the city's homelessness crisis is an indescribably important issue that needs to be addressed. Many of the people there, I think, would agree that it is incumbent on all of us to play some role in assisting. They merely wonder if this particular building (with its questionable history, shortage of space, improper CofO, and proximity to the methadone clinic) is the right form for that assistance. The problem isn't simply that people don't want a shelter in their neighborhood; it runs deeper than that. It's that the community feels like it's been hoodwinked.
The ties between the major players in the proposal are at best questionable and at worst corrupt. The fact that the formal review process was expedited to a speed that appears to have left the community, its representatives, and even other departments of the City's government excluded from weighing in, invariably leads one to feel as though one has been fleeced. It's not even that we've been sold a false bill of goods; it's that someone's come in during the night and stocked our pantries with products we never wanted.