Metzner says downtown homeless shelter 'unacceptable'

June 11, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

Following comments by Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Tuesday suggested the city consider prohibiting the construction of a homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown.

"A homeless shelter in downtown Hagerstown is unacceptable," Metzner said.

But Terri Baker, executive director of REACH, said it does not make sense to build a shelter outside of the downtown when the organizations providing services to the homeless are downtown.

"The people in need are in downtown Hagerstown," Baker said.

The issue arose during Tuesday's council meeting because REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - appealed to the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals a request to put a permanent homeless shelter on commercially zoned property at 35 E. Washington St.


Stephen R. Bockmiller, a city planner, said the property owner told him Tuesday he has sold the property to another buyer.

Smith told the council that problems could result from the shelter being built downtown and reminded the council that there were problems and complaints sparked by the homeless being in downtown last winter.

REACH runs the Cold Weather Shelter, which provides lodging and food for the homeless from October to April but it requires its users to be out of the shelter from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Last winter some homeless people spent their days in the Washington County Free Library, prompting complaints and concerns by patrons and library officials.

A temporary day shelter was set up but that is not a permanent solution, Smith said.

The shelter currently rotates among area churches but there were tentative plans for a permanent shelter site on West Franklin Street next to Christ's Reformed Church when renovations to the former Cannon Shoe Factory are completed.

Smith said, however, the Franklin site would not have a day shelter for the homeless so the problems of last winter probably would continue in future winters. There is less of a problem the rest of the year, he said.

Baker, who was not at the council meeting, said there is a chance REACH would have a daytime shelter at the church.

The Washington Street site was being considered as a back-up plan, she said.

The church site and the Washington Street site would hurt downtown revitalization efforts and businesses since some downtown visitors will not want to be near homeless people, Smith said.

Bockmiller said his interpretation of city zoning law is that a homeless shelter could only be allowed legally if it is an accessory to another church.

Metzner urged City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman to bring the issue back to the council soon for further discussion and possible action, such as blocking the construction of all shelters downtown.

Baker asked why other organizations have been allowed to have shelters that are not associated with a church.

After the meeting, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said he disagreed with the idea of banning the construction of a permanent shelter in downtown, at least until the city first helps REACH determine where it should be built.

Hendershot suggested REACH officials meet with city planners to try to determine a good site for the shelter.

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