Homeless intake center may be shut down | TheUnion.com

Homeless intake center may be shut down

As nighttime temperatures dip into the low 30s, the possible closure of Hospitality House’s intake center on Colfax Avenue is a frightening prospect for many local homeless people.

It’s a warm place to go for two hours a day to shower, do laundry, eat and relax before being bused to one of 25 churches in the area for the night.

“If they closed I’d have nowhere else to go,” said Carol Beetler, 51, a petite woman with light blue eyes and long brown hair who frequents the center every day. “I’m single, I have no boyfriend, no car and nowhere to put my stuff.”

She leaves her personal belongings in the center’s back room in a plastic bin – a courtesy extended to all guests – and she gets a free bus pass, which she uses to ride the bus all day for shelter and warmth during snowstorms.

“Chips” Bezanson, 63, a guest with a cache of quirky stories, said he goes to the center for conversation and companionship.

“I don’t like being lonely,” he said, sitting on a comfortable couch in the front room, watching a Jackie Chan comedy with the other guests. “The rejects of society have a right to be part of society, too.”

After more than three months of negotiation, the Grass Valley Planning Department has given the Hospitality House Board of Directors until Friday to obtain a use permit for the intake center or face the possibility of citations and fines.

But a use permit takes several months to process.

The house’s board of directors never obtained a use permit because the area is zoned commercial, and they consider the intake center a business, not a homeless shelter.

“They have to get a use permit to operate at that location,” said Grass Valley Planning Director Tom Last. “They do need to cease operation or they could be cited in violation of the zoning ordinance.”

But Hospitality House board members want to avoid closing at all costs.

“These people are already so displaced,” said Cindy Maple, co-chair on the Hospitality House board. “It’s already a struggle for them to get the services they need. We have a desire to protect them.”

Maple said the center is only open for two hours a day and no one spends the night there – that’s what the 25 area churches are for, she said. The board has been working with the city trying to reach a compromise since December, when the planning department sent notice of the necessity of a use permit.

But during the last few months, the Grass Valley Police Department has received several calls from business owners and residential neighbors of the intake center, complaining the guests loiter and smoke cigarettes near their property.

“I think there is potentially some fear there,” Maple said. “I’d tell those people to come and get to know them. They all have their special stories.”

In the meantime, Maple said, the board has no intention of shutting down the house, which takes in an average of 20 people every day.

Beetler said it makes her feel “terrible” when she knows people don’t want her around simply because she is homeless, like the time a downtown business owner had a storefront bench removed because she didn’t want Beetler sitting on it.

“Not all homeless people are drunks,” she said. “Some people just come from bad situations.”


To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.

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