GREEN BAY - Hours after a special meeting of the City of Green Bay's Protection & Welfare Committee started regarding the operations of the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter (SJEHS), the committee says the shelter is not in violation of its Conditional Use Permit (CUP).
The hearing was to discuss its operations plan. The shelter's executive director Alexia Wood says it's not out of the ordinary for the shelter to present it's operational and overflow plan to the PWC – it must do so four times a year. But she says what is out of the ordinary is the calling of the meeting a week earlier than normally scheduled and being listed as the sole PWC agenda item.
Last week, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt raised concerns that the shelter was housing more people than the permit allows, which is 64. SJEHS provides temporary overnight emergency shelter for adults from November through April, starting at 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.
"It's not working as well as it should – in my opinion," said Schmitt.
Located at 411 St. John Street in Downtown Green Bay, the city approved the shelter's request for a capacity increase to 64 in August.
"The other shelters are full," said SJEHS corporation president and Green Bay Diocese Deacon Timothy Reilly. "So people don't have a place to go, they're going to come to St. John's."
"I work for the police, I work for the downtown neighbors, I work for the homeless people and I think we need to have a discussion," said Schmitt. "They give them a nice dinner and a great facility and they kick them out at 9 in the morning. Freezing cold, no place to go," said Schmitt. "And I think that's un-Christian."
Another concern of Schmitt's and the Green Bay Police Department is calls for service.
According to GBPD, from November 1 to date, there have been 30 calls for service related to the shelter and its guests.
Speaking at the meeting, Interim Police Chief Tom Molitor says that costs time and money.
"When we're doing things for these folks, we're not able to do other things that we believe are also priorities," said Molitor.
Captain Jim Runge – who is in charge of the downtown district – tells FOX 11 many of those calls for service come from the shelter itself regarding the discovery of outstanding warrants for potential guests during the intake process.
He says there have been very few calls to the shelter for disturbances and the shelter has been active in limiting those calls during its operating hours.
But some who live in the community are none-to-pleased at how the Catholic shelter has grown in their back yard.
"Their shelter started with about 10 to 15 people," said Ann Hartmann. "Now they're up to 64!"
"I bought in to the business of coming downtown to own a business and run a business," said Andrea Olson of Allouez.
Olson says she still owns several properties in the surrounding area of SJEHS. But says her attempts at running a coffee shop in the neighborhood were hurt by the shelter and the type of people it draws to the area.
"I have been run out of business," said Olson.
But for some, the shelter was a place to turn to when other shelters left them out in the cold.
"I'm not a trouble maker," Santiago Schmerber said quietly to the committee.
Schmerber says he battles with his alcoholism every day and currently lives at SJEHS.
"But the thing is, when I'm alone, that's when I'm most dangerous to myself."
After hearing nearly four hours of concerns and ideas for possible solutions, the three city aldermen who make up the PWC decided the shelter was not violating its CUP.
"We just thought that there was some knee jerk reactions out in the community," said PWC Chairman and District 10 Alderman Mark Steuer. "And it's very difficult to say, well, we're going to make a knee-jerk decision on it."
"Our operational plan that was submitted along with the conditional use permit outline an overflow plan," explained shelter executive director Alexia Wood after the meeting adjourned.
The committee did motion to create a sub-committee to look into the concerns the public has when it comes to homelessness in the downtown area.
Steuer says that could open the possibility of re-starting the task force on homelessness. The motion must be approved by the city council.
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