Shelter will remain open
The Colfax Avenue Welcome Center for the Hospitality House will be allowed to operate without fines or citations until April 15, providing the guests comply with some new rules outlined by the City of Grass Valley.
The Grass Valley planning director announced Thursday that the Welcome Center will be permitted to stay open through winter providing the shelter’s board of directors abide by four conditions, including dispersing guests to various locations throughout the city other than downtown, picking up guests from designated locations and transporting them to the Welcome Center, requiring a monitor to patrol the neighborhood to insure compliance with neighbor concerns and making a good faith effort to alleviate the concerns of neighbors.
“We understand this is a unique use and because of extraordinary circumstances they need a central location,” Grass Valley Planning Director Tom Last said Thursday evening. “We will refrain from enforcing provisions providing they make those four steps.”
The Rev. Don Lee, a Hospitality House board member, said he is relieved the center’s guests will be able to take advantage of its numerous services and facilities through the cold winter weather.
“We’re very pleased negotiations have paid off,” Lee said. “We certainly need to provide the Welcome Center operation throughout the season. We’re going to work hard to uphold our end of the bargain.”
Last said he has been urging the shelter board to apply for a use permit ever since he learned of the center’s operation in December. The city has been stepping up pressure since Grass Valley Police began fielding several complaints from the center’s neighbors.
“Just in February we had at least four complaints,” said Grass Valley Police Capt. Greg Hart. “We had a client yelling obscenities at passing citizens and one client was intoxicated.”
Hart said police also arrested one the center’s guests for an assault that took place at the center.
While some neighbors say the guests are harmless, others don’t agree.
“It hasn’t been all bad, but it hasn’t been all good,” said Terri Whalin-West, owner of a beauty salon next door to the Welcome Center.
While she is friendly with some of the guests, she said she has been forced to ask others repeatedly not to smoke in front of her building.
“It’s one of my pet peeves,” she said.
Whalin-West said she thought about posting a sign in front of her salon prohibiting people from smoking within several feet of her building, but she thought her landlady would react negatively to such a request.
She said she often draws nasty stares from the homeless people she asks to move from her storefront, and a few of her clients have been terrified by some of the homeless men.
One man said ‘hey, ladies’ to some of her clients as they walked toward her back entrance one dark evening, she said.
“They ran in here terrified,” she said. “I’m lucky they didn’t run back to their cars and drive away instead.”
Whalin-West said she has genuine concern for the hardships of other people, but she doesn’t think the center’s guests are respectful enough to her or her clients.
“I, as a person who has respected them, want that in return,” she said. “I’m not a bad person. I’m a good person.”
Hart said the neighbors’ complaints have to be addressed and respected, even if it is an unpopular position to take.
“Nobody is opposed to the efforts of the homeless shelter and we’re certainly willing to work with these folks if they make a good faith effort to work with us,” he said. “They must understand they are having an impact on the neighbors.”
Lee said the Hospitality House board is actively searching for a new location to move the center before the next shelter season begins in October. He said he is looking forward to working with the city’s planning department on a conditional use permit for a future location.
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 robynm@ theunion.com or call 477-4236.
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