St. Louis planning commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to grant a short term special land use permit for a homeless shelter at St. Louis Church of the Nazarene.
The church is located on south side of M-46 east of Needham’s Home Center.
Hope House, a new 501(c)3 charitable organization, now has official sanction to activate the shelter for this winter on a trial basis and plans to open on Jan. 6. The planning commission will revisit the issue next year before deciding if the Hope House shelter should be a permanent thing.
The shelter will occupy 4,280 square feet of the church and house 20 “guests” in three rooms. (One for women. One for men. One for families.) Guests will sleep on twin-size, bacteria proof and bug proof mats that are designed with homeless shelters in mind. Guests will be provided sheets, blankets and pillows.
Church of the Nazarene Pastor Jake Gregory and Church of God Pastor Nathan Workman have spoken to folks who run homeless shelters in multiple cities around Michigan and based their operating procedure on what they learned.
Guests will be admitted for 30 days at a time, reevaluated and possibly granted another 30 days.
“We’re going to be working with them during those 30 days to help them turn a corner in life and move toward self sufficiency,” Gregory said. “And after 30 days we’ll reevaluate and see if there’s reason to re-up their stay in the shelter, or if it’s time for them to move on.”
Not a Layabout Shelter
Guest will be required to do chores that have not been clearly defined yet, Gregory said. “However, they will be basic in nature: clean your space in the sleeping room, clean bathrooms, clean the kitchenette, vacuum, etc. We want to create a community in the shelter. This means everyone has to be willing to pitch in and take care of it together.”
Gregory believes Hope House will enable clients to address the issues responsible for their homelessness, such as budgeting and addictions. “If we get people housed and take care of basic necessities they’re freed up to address those other areas,” he said.
Names of prospective guests will be checked to screen out anyone on the sex offender registry.
No weapons, alcohol or illegal drugs will be permitted. (Even the now-legal marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, will not be permitted.)
Prescription medication will be kept under lock and key.
Guests will check in at 6 p.m. and submit to a search of all bags and be frisked for any contraband they might carry.
Dinner will be served at 7 p.m., provided by volunteers and prepared off-site. Lights out at 10:30 p.m. with reveille at 7 a.m. Breakfast will be served, and everyone has to be out by 8 a.m.
Guests must stay away until 1 p.m., giving staff time to search the building for contraband, Gregory said.
The enforced time away from the shelter “also incentivizes guests to be out looking for jobs or other assistance,” according to a presentation paper prepared by Gregory and Workman.
Volunteers to supervise guests
Volunteers working in shifts will supervise and monitor guests. Three volunteers will be on duty from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., and at least one must be awake at all times “to be sure they’re not leaving the shelter, not going outside, not leaving their rooms and not disturbing one another,” Gregory said.
St. Louis Church of Christ will make its showers available for the guests.
It is estimated that there are 600 homeless people in Gratiot County, including 252 children. Some are living in hotels. Others are “couch surfing.” Some are living with friends. Some are living in cars. Click on Gratiot Homelessness below to download Gratiot homeless demographics:
The meeting room was packed that night, mostly with supporters of the Hope House project.
Kevin L. Stedman
Kevin L. Stedman of St. Louis High School read a letter to the commission from high school Principal Jennifer McKittrick: “At the secondary level we have unaccompanied youth who do not have a fixed residence,” she wrote. “They move from household to household hoping for a warm place to lay their head. These students struggle in school because their basic needs are not met.
“Parents reach out to us frequently for assistance with transportation, clothing and basic needs. As a school system we can help to provide these needs, but what we can’t provide is a fixed residence. This is where I believe Gratiot County Hope House can step in to help fill this void. If we are going to educate our homeless youth to help them graduate with skills to be college and/or career ready then we as a community need to help with housing resources.”
Pastor Rick Lopez
Pastor Rick Lopez of Resurrection Life Church spoke next: “I don’t even know that I can number the amount of times we have had people show up at the church or call the church looking for help or a place to stay,” he said. “We’ve put people up in hotels many many times. But there are those heartbreaking moments when we are unable to help and have to turn (people) away, and those are serious moments when you feel like you really failed humanity.”
Audra Stahl, president and CEO of Child Advocacy in the Wilcox non-profit center in Alma said “people come into our building weekly looking for help with housing and any assistance we can provide. My window looks over Wright Park, and I spent the summer looking at a man sleeping in the pavilion there. I hope you’ll consider this project. It’s desperately needed in our community.”
Jennifer Workman, wife of Pastor Nathan Workman of the St. Louis Church of God, said “homeless people are already here in our neighborhoods. Our church property butts up to the cemetery, and I know we have homeless people living in the cemetery. And I see, at times, them walking up and down our street. Whether you realize it or not they’re sleeping by the library, they’re in our cemeteries. They are here.”
Police Chief Ramereiz
Workman said that he and Gregory met with St. Louis Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. recently, and Ramereiz “cited, off the top of his head, five instances of people he knew that were sleeping outside in places that were not supposed to be slept in long term or into the winter months.”
Ramereiz confirmed that and elaborated via email:
“We have had someone staying in the bushes next to the library,” he wrote. “We found clothing, sleeping bags, food and drinks hidden in the bushes. It did appear that the person was sleeping there at times. This person was identified and has since began staying with a friend to my knowledge.”
Ramereiz continued: “We have a young man who frequents St. Louis that is living out of his vehicle with his dog. He mostly stays in the public parking lots when he is in town in his vehicle.
“We had another incident of a person setting up a tent in the woods by Michigan Chloride. Officers inspected this and found the tent and signs that a person had been staying in the tent for a while. Officers never made contact but left a card with information on local services for the person to seek assistance. That person was never identified. The tent was gone the very next day.
“We had a person living in the small wooded area at Lincoln Park next to the railroad tracks. This person is no longer homeless.
“We had reports of a person or persons sleeping in the wood line behind the Oakridge Apartments. We were never able to contact anyone but found makeshift forts (branches, tarps, plastic sheeting, clothing in bags). We are not sure if it is homeless people doing this or the kids who live at the apartments.
“We investigated a complaint of a homeless person sleeping in the woods near Michigan Avenue and US-127. The police department did contact them. We verified they were homeless. Assistance was offered, and information provided. The person moved off private property and took the information provided.
“We were notified that there were tents and forts hidden in the tree line along the railroad tracks east of town and along Michigan Avenue. We did find a few along the railroad tracks east of town but not any along the tracks that paralleled Michigan Avenue”
Hold on a second
The two dissenting voices came from residents near the church who worry about crime and the affect the shelter will have on property values.
“I think it’s great that we’re looking for a cure for homelessness,” said Rich Duggan, who lives across M-46 on Fox Drive. “I have no problem with the shelter. I do have a problem with it being so close to where I live. Hopefully nothing will ever happen, but if you watch TV and the news, it’s scary. I have Parkinson’s disease and I’m by myself most of the day. I just want you to keep in mind that some of us are going to have more of an impact than others.”
Kevin Beeson, the supervisor of Pine River Township, was the other nearby property owner who voiced concerns.
“I would hope that as a planning commission you folks checked back with your own zoning ordinance that you’re enforcing tonight and make sure you’re in a position to grant this type of use in a residential district,” he said. “I can’t find that a shelter of this sort is allowed. I personally believe we’re stretching it because we can’t find anything in the ordinance that talks about homeless shelters. An ordinance is to protect the value of people’s property. (The shelter) will affect property values if it develops and continues. Someone could look at my house and say ‘You’re across the street from a homeless shelter.’ Put it next to your house and you’ll understand the issues we’re discussing.”
Click on the play button below to hear audio from the meeting.
“We are looking for churches, businesses, service groups, clubs and individuals to volunteer,” Gregory said via email. “Before any volunteer works a shift we will meet with them to go over basic rules, procedures, and expectations. We’ve had two volunteer training events which were well attended.”
To offer your services, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (989) 948-0404. You can also like Hope House on Facebook: facebook.com/gchopehouse. If you want to donate money, there’s a button for it there.