Finding permanent shelter for homeless is community job
The certainty of warmer weather approaching will take the heat off the city’s efforts to shelter Ann Arbor’s homeless.
Actually, balmy night breezes only transfer the problem to city parks and the underside of bridges. For the homeless, a bed is any place affording protection from the elements. Unfortunately, even a park bench doesn’t do that.
It can be argued endlessly whether taking care of the homeless is an obligation of the city or welfare agencies or whatever kindly church reaches out to provide succor or all of the above. But while the arguments swirl, here these people are - requiring our attention.
An appropriation of $3,000 the by City Council from its contingency fund is a good faith gesture, but not much else. It fails to address the real need, that of a permanent shelter somewhere for needy people to repair for rest and protection.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church cannot and should not be expected to handle the problem alone.
St. Andrew’s rector E. James Lewis and parishioner Ray Mesler, who supervises volunteers at the church-operated House Acjoes-thp Street, have worked hard to focus attention on what they correctly see as a community-wide problem.
Part of any major urban church’s local outreach is to these very people. In that respect perhaps, St. Andrew’s is a “prisoner” of geography — homeless people easily locate St. Andrew’s. But downtown churches, while uniquely sited for special ministries of this sort, may also find the opportunity to be of service more than they can realistically-handle without help from other sources.
The problems are vexing but not insurmountable. The House Across the Street is in violation of zoning laws for housing too many people. It is certified with the city as a single family rental unit. (The Ann Arbor Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to consider a request by church officials to grant a variance permitting 15 persons - 12 “guests” and three volunteer staffers - to be sheltered nightly in the house. The will be held in the conference room in the downtown fire station.)
Neighbors have voiced fears about a permanent shelter in the St. Andrew’s area possibly attracting a criminal element.
Shelters for the destitute are a lot like toxic waste dumps and group homes in that regard: necessary perhaps, but don’t place one in my neighborhood. “It doesn’t matter what it is,” former Councilman Lou Velker said, “somebody doesn’t want it on their block.”
Still, Council needs to do more than appropriate a few dollars and pledge its moral support. The time until cold weather returns in earnest should be used to find a permanent shelter for these citizens.
It may be the House Across the Street, properly fixed up and rezoned, is still the best hope for such a shelter. Perhaps the city and St. Andrew’s could staff this facility on a shared basis; maybe too, once neighbors’ concerns are responsibly addressed their worst suspicions will be allayed and the shelter can go about its mission.
But we won’t know until there’s a greater commitment from the city. The upcoming budget discussions are a good place to begin.
THE ANN ARBOR NEWS
The Ann Arbor News Editorial Review Board includes the publisher, editor, metro editor, editorial page editor and editorial writer and members of the newsroom staff on a rotating basis. Currently serving are reporter Kathy Hulik and Ypsilanti Bureau Chief Glen Harris.