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Council Committee Passes Homeless Shelter Zoning Changes

A gap in zoning laws in Louisville that leaves homeless shelters partially unregulated could soon be closed.

The Metro Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee Tuesday approved a change in zoning laws recommended by the homeless shelter task force. The legislation defines different types of homeless shelters and gives them zoning classifications, which define where the shelters can be built. The task force was formed after Wayside Christian Mission attempted to open a shelter downtown and exposed the lack of regulation. Council committee chair Jon Ackerson says by closing the gap, the council not only addresses Wayside, but makes a larger statement.

“There is concern that because we don’t have any current homeless shelter established procedures in Jefferson County that an argument could be made, ‘Well then Jefferson County’s not friendly to those indigent people who need housing,’ whether it’s transitional or more permanent,” he says.

The ordinance would allow Wayside to operate a shelter downtown. Wayside, however, is operating its property at Second and Broadway as a hotel. Another council committee will soon consider legislation that would regulate how homeless shelters could operate. Both ordinances will likely go before the full council next week.

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Haven House Staff Close To Buying Back Shelter

The staff at the Haven House homeless shelter in Jeffersonville is almost finished with a fundraising campaign. The staff is trying to raise money to buy back their building, which was auctioned in March.

The building was auctioned because Haven House’s director owed about 300 hundred thousand dollars in payroll taxes to the IRS.   Unless the staff can raise enough money to buy it back, the new owner plans to close and renovate the shelter, then re-open it under new management.

But Haven House deputy director Kelli Orman says the shelter should not close, even though it could use the renovations.

“It does need repairs,” she says. “It does need some fixing up, but just keeping the electric and making sure the residents have food has always been more important than how pretty it is.”

The shelter’s current staff has until September 5th to raise 88 hundred dollars to buy back the building. A Florida man has donated half of the money, and Orman says local donations will likely make up the rest. If they can buy back the building, Orman says Haven House will not close and will receive a federal grant for renovations.

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Task Force Recommendations Favor Wayside Shelter Downtown

by Gabe Bullard

Wayside Christian Mission may legally be able to operate a homeless shelter in downtown Louisville by the end of the summer.

The Homeless Shelter Task Force was formed to address the gap in zoning laws that neither allowed nor prohibited Wayside’s proposed shelter at 2nd and Broadway. The task force’s final recommendation would allow shelters like Wayside’s in commercial spaces like downtown, and does not set a limit for how many shelters can be in a specific area.

“There are not distance mandates,” says Assistant Director of Planning and Design Services Dawn Warrick. “That was something the task force did discuss: whether or not there should be a requirement for a certain amount of distance to be mandated between various facilities.”

Warrick says the task force does recommend the city establish a licensing standard for shelters.

“We do business licensing for all types of activities within the community at this point in time,” she says. “You operate a restaurant, you have a business licenses, you operate a taxi service you have a business license.”

The task force also suggests that shelters operating in certain zoning areas follow specific quality standards. The recommendations now go to the Planning Commission. If approved, they will be sent to the Metro Council for final approval, which could come as early as July.

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Professor At Odds With Shelter Task Force

A University of Louisville professor walked out of Firday’s homeless shelter task force meeting after his request to speak was denied.

The task force was formed to address a gap in zoning laws that leaves homeless shelters without a clear definition. It’s a response to Wayside Christian Mission’s attempt to establish a shelter downtown.Dr. John Gilderbloom says the task force does not have the proper representation and should be looking at more than just zoning for shelters.

“There has to be certain guidelines just like we have a restaurant, just like we have car protections, just like we have home protections and right now we’re not getting that at all,” he says.

Gilderbloom walked out of the meeting after he wasn’t allowed to speak.

“I’ve been working with enough homeless people and have done enough interviews with homeless people to know what they want,” he says. “And we’re going to do our own committee and we’re going to go right to the zoning and to the city council.”

Assistant Director of Metro Planning Dawn Warrick says only task force members may speak at certain meetings, though the body will ask for academic input at a later meeting.

“Obviously Dr. Gilderbloom is one of the top people doing that in this area that we could draw from as a resource, so I would hope that’s something that he’d be willing to do to bring his valuable information to the task force for his consideration,” she says.

She adds that the task force can vote to add more members and representation to the body.

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Homeless Shelter Task Force Adds Members, Will Meet Friday

The Louisville task force that will help determine how homeless shelters are regulated will meet again Friday.

This will be the group’s second meeting. It was formed last year to address a gap in the law that leaves homeless shelters without a clear zoning definition. The gap has delayed Wayside Christian Mission’s efforts to establish a shelter downtown, and the task force will make a recommendation for how shelters should be zoned.

Since the first meeting, Metro Planning Assistant Director Dawn Warrick says four more members have been brought in.

“From [the] Homebuilders Association, from the Urban League and from Church-affiliated community service agency…and I’m still trying to finish recruiting somebody representing small business and GLI,” she says.

The group will meet six times between now and March, but  Warrick says there’s no deadline for the task force to complete its work.

“The task force is fairly dynamic. It’s got a lot of people on it. And to get that group to all push forward and accomplish this in six meetings is going to be a feat.”

Much of Friday’s meeting will be spent comparing homeless shelters to establishments like boarding houses that are covered by zoning law.

“We have other communal living types of definitions,” says Warrick. “Certainly multi-family and rehabilitation homes. But those aren’t exactly hitting the mark when it comes to some of these other facilities we need to find a home for.”

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Wayside Renting Rooms At Hotel Building For One Cent

About 80 residents of Wayside Christian Mission’s emergency shelters checked into the old Hotel Louisville building at 2nd and Broadway Wednesday night.

The residents are renting economy rooms for one penny per night. Wayside owns the hotel and intends to turn it into a shelter for women and families, but the city’s zoning board has not yet decided whether a shelter can operate downtown. Wayside Director Nina Moseley says she can’t wait any longer for decision.

“A process like that going to run it way into next year before anything is decided. In the meantime we have the cold weather coming in. Every family shelter in town is full with a waiting list and we do not want any of our women or children to freeze,” says Moseley. “The folks that checked in the hotel are all folks who had been in the emergency shelter for several months, and so they are stabilized and ready to transition on to something different. Those are the folks we used to fill our economy rooms.”

Moseley says Wayside is still a nonprofit and is running the hotel legally. She says she’s cleared the operation with Metro Government and will pay hotel taxes on all revenues.

“We’re following all of the rules as they’re told to us and taking care of our folks until such time that we are allowed to operate a shelter here,” she says.

Residents must check out for one night after 30 days, but can check back in afterward. There is currently a waiting list for the economy rooms. Other rooms are being rented for 129 dollars per night.

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Forum Discusses Shelter Zoning

Wayside Christian Mission’s proposal to turn the Hotel Louisville building at 2nd Street and Broadway into a homeless shelter has raised questions about zoning for such facilities in Louisville.

Zoning law neither prohibits nor allows a shelter to be built downtown and Wayside is currently waiting on a ruling from the Metro Planning Department. That decision will likely be appealed to the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Attorney Steve Porter says he hopes the board will work with the Metro Council to create clear zoning and municipal regulations for shelters.

“If you’re going to have homeless shelters, just tell us where they can be located, how big they can be, what services they have to provide and what protections there are for the neighborhood,” he says. “And then secondly, what protections are there for the people in that shelter?”

Porter made his comments at a Louisville Forum meeting Wednesday.

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Louisville Metro Offers Shelters

Louisville Metro Government is offering a place to stay and access to electricity to anyone who lost power in the ice storm.

The city has opened shelters and government centers to the public and will provide transportation to those facilities for anyone who is stranded.

Mayor Jerry Abramson says shelters were not crowded during the blackout that followed Hurricane Ike last September, but with colder temperatures, more facilities may be needed.

“As far as the Louisville Gardens, it’s always a backup,” says Abramson. “It takes us about three or four hours to put the heat on, get it up to being able to accept people.”

An E-On US official estimates it will take seven to ten days to restore power to all customers.

Update:
The Red Cross is operating a shelter at Walnut Street Baptist Church at 1143 S. Third St. in Old Louisville. If you need transportation to the shelter, call MetroCall at 311.

The YMCA has opened its facilities up for people needing to use the showers.

Here is a list of places that are open to the public to take shelter during the daytime hours.

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Shelters Open For Cold, But Many Are Full

This week’s cold snap has sent many Louisville-area homeless looking for warmth. But many shelters are already full.

When the weather gets extremely hot or cold, some local shelters participate in “Operation White Flag,” in which they relax their rules to accommodate those seeking refuge.

Coalition for the Homeless Director of Community Coordination Mary Frances Schafer says space is tight at some shelters, which are crowded with people who have lost their homes in the economic downturn.

“If this were not a weather emergency, we’d probably be turning people away,” says Schafer. “But because of the weather we don’t want anyone to die or to suffer extreme hardship because of the weather.”

Schafer says Operation White Flag does not guarantee a bed, but insures a place to get out of the cold.

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Hawkins Vows To Continue Fighting Police Storage

A measure to block funding for a proposed police storage facility in south Louisville has failed.

The facility would hold unused ammunition and explosives confiscated by the bomb squad. In the spring, Councilman Doug Hawkins raised concern over its location near Cardinal Hill Reservoir. Despite assurances from police and others that anything stored in the facility wouldn’t pose any danger to nearby homes or the water supply,  Hawkins remained skeptical.

Last night, he withdrew his sponsorship of a measure to block funding for the facility, after it was amended by the Metro Council to allow the project to move forward.

“We haven’t quit fighting,” says Hawkins. “We’ve got other places to take it and we will not let them put that bomb storage facility up there, period.”

Hawkins said he may try to take the issue before the state legislature, but offered no further details. Some council members have accused Hawkins of exaggerating the matter to boost his campaign for the state Senate, which he denies.