Sunday, February 14, 2010

BEAT BYTE: Controversial North Central youth shelter up for council vote

Lukewarm staff report notes neighborhood resistance, incomplete financial picture

COLUMBIA, 2/14/10  (Beat Byte) -- "Similar to the last time this application was submitted, there is still no operating pro forma that would allow us to determine the feasibility of operating this project.  Adequate information was not provided to determine financial feasibility." 

So says a lukewarm city staff report on a controversial shelter for homeless youth planned across from Hickman High School by Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) that Columbia City Council members will hear public testimony about funding Monday (tomorrow) night.

The homeless or "transitional" youth shelter is one of several items council members will discuss as they revise plans for Federal HOME funds under the "public hearings" agenda.  CMCA is asking for $76,545 to help complete the shelter, planned for a vacant lot at 1004 North 7th Street in Columbia's North Central Village neighborhood that CMCA purchased in 2005 for almost $80,000.  The completed 5-unit project is anticipated to cost $594,818 or roughly
$119,000 per unit. 

As the staff report notes, the shelter project sparked considerable controversy in late 2007, when at a packed-house meeting, neighbors in the largely single-family residential area expressed serious concerns about the facility's planned location next to a church, across from a high school, and down the street from residences involved in frequent drug and criminal arrests such as the Wayne Fenton-owned home at 802 Wilkes Blvd., just two blocks away and the subject of this Nov. 2008 Trib article:

Nuisances put focus on arrests

The neighborhood already has two homeless shelters and numerous social service agencies, residents noted, expressing additional concerns about the uncertain nature of the first-time concept.  "I don’t want our neighborhood to be the guinea pig for this program," Amir Ziv, who lives on nearby 8th Street, said during the meeting, which was covered by both the Columbia Daily Tribune and Columbia Missourian

"Columbia police Sgt. John White of the Community Services Unit was most concerned about the proposed shelter’s proximity to Hickman High School," wrote Trib reporter T.J. Greaney.  "Residents feel the neighborhood around Wilkes, between Ninth Street and Providence Road, is beginning to improve. Another homeless shelter would mark a regression, they said." 

CMCA's history in the central city -- which has involved high-profile failures, including the rehabilitation of the historic Heibel March Store and the agency's inability to sell its low-income housing (also noted in the staff report) -- came up with neighbors as well. 

Speaking in favor of the project, "CMCA Executive Director Darin Preis (above Missourian photo shuttering Heibel March store) spoke passionately about the need to reach these children through innovative means," Greaney wrote.  "I’m not satisfied with the quality or depth of service we provide right now."

In November, reacting to neighborhood pressure, Preis and CMCA withdrew plans to seek a zoning variance that would have upsized the project.  After doing so, the agency argued that the land was zoned accordingly -- no variance necessary -- and they should be able to do with it as they pleased.

But considerable public money is now on the line, which continues to make the nearly 3-year-old project an issue of public and neighborhood interest. 


Public is invited to testify
Item R33-10 under Public hearings:
Discussion of homeless youth shelter, pages 35-53.  Staff Report on page 36:

Teen shelter on north side spurs critics
Residents worry about too many services.

Teen shelter planners reduce site proposal

Director sees Heibel March rehab as bad fit

Affordable homes prove difficult to sell

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