Cold times for homeless |

Cold times for homeless

With the hopes of keeping a homeless shelter welcome center open until freezing winter weather dies down, the shelter’s board will tailor its operations to appease surrounding business owners and residents who have complained of homeless people loitering near their property.

“We’re in negotiations with the city,” said Hospitality House boardmember Mary O’Brien Wednesday. “We are addressing the complaints of the neighbors and the downtown association, and we’re making adjustments for the good of everybody.”

According to the Grass Valley Police Department blotter, the majority of complaints since the shelter opened have come from a beauty salon next to the center on Colfax Avenue, while a few other residents and business owners have reportedly complained of the center’s guests loitering.

But one neighbor said she does not know what all the fuss is about.

“I’ve never had a problem with them,” said Elise Hougeson, who lives on Oak Street across from Memorial Park a few houses down from the welcome center. “I’ve never seen anything disorderly or wrong or lewd. I think these complaints are more fear and hysteria.”

O’Brien said in a meeting with Last this morning, the board would commit to keeping the guests away from the center until it opens at 4 p.m.

The guests are allowed to be inside the upstairs center to shower, do laundry and eat until 6 p.m., when they are bused to a church to sleep for the night.

The shelter system operates seasonally, from October to April and the intake center is an integral part of the shelter network of 25 churches.

Earlier this week, Grass Valley Planning Director Tom Last gave the shelter board until Friday to apply for a use permit and ask for an extension in writing.

He said the board would face citations and fines if they did not submit a formal, written request because they are in violation of zoning regulations.

The area is zoned commercial, and the shelter board considers the welcome center a business; no one sleeps there overnight, and it is open two hours every day.

Hospitality House Secretary Joanna Robinson said the board was already planning to move the intake center after the shelter season is over in April.

“Our lease is up in May,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to stay there.”

But the board’s main concern right now, she said, is providing a warm place during cold weather for the homeless to relax and connect with shelter staff and volunteers who provide a myriad of resources, including free health care and bus passes.

Robinson said she is particularly worried that one guest, a pregnant woman with three children aged 4, 2, and 1, will be left without the benefit of the center’s resources.

“These people have a right to be where they choose to be,” she said Wednesday. “They have a fundamental right to be in the world.”

Finding a new spot for the intake center has been difficult, she said.

“We haven’t been able to come up with a place,” Robinson said. “We have real estate friends poking around and we’ve just been driving around looking for a location for months.”

Shelter board members are confident the city will allow them to keep the intake center open until the weather warms up, as long as they can meet the needs of surrounding neighbors.

“We’re going to be able to work something out,” Robinson said.

To support the Hospitality House shelter system, make checks out to “Hospitality House” and send them to P.O. Box 3223, Grass Valley, Ca. 95945.

To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail or call 477-4236.

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