Developer fields concerns about Helper mission
|Developer Ben Logue |
With a new name and a reconfigured purpose, the beleaguered Helper homeless shelter's future is looking brighter.
La Porte Group developer Ben Logue came to town to address a number of issues that had been percolating after the Golden Rule Mission had come under fire from a number of Main Street business owners.
The developer met directly with the merchants earlier in the day and followed up at last Thursday's city council meeting.
"I am still purchasing the building and plan to put $2.5 million into it," Logue told the council and the audience.
He went on to say that the facility would now be called the Avalon House and that with the name change would come a whole new set of rules and regulations.
"I have a history of implementing very strict management in my facilities," he said. "That's why the state came to me and asked me to buy it."
Logue shared his bottom line.
"I am here to make money," he said.
The La Porte Group representative explained that his plan is to transform the facility from a classic mission into transitional housing.
The renovation will include creating 32 single occupancy rooms each with their own bathroom that will be home to about 33 people, which is the approximate number now residing at the shelter.
"However, if somebody comes in with a family they will be able to take two or three rooms as needed," Logue said.
The units will have pass through doors such as those found in many motels and hotels that will facilitate combining rooms when necessary.
With the picture painted the council asked Logue to extrapolate on what changes would be in place to alleviate concerns that had been growing since business owners reported cases of harassment from persons they believed lived at the shelter.
When the project is finished, Logue said there will two levels of management. The facility will have its own manager, in addition to case management services provided to residents.
"Our development managers are known to be tough," he said, reiterating that each person admitted will undergo a criminal background check. "They are the police officers of the building making sure residents abide by our rules."
As for the current residents, Logue said that after the background checks some of them may have to be asked to leave.
Councilman Dean Armstrong asked for clarification.
"Just where do you draw the line, assaults, pedophiles, where?" he asked.
Rob Sampson from Logue's staff listed some of crimes that would exclude acceptance at Avalon House.
"If they have been convicted of violent felonies, sex crimes or murder they wouldn't be allowed in," said Sampson.
Case managers will help residents navigate the myriad of resources they may need to get back on their feet, he said.
"If they have mental problems, they will be assisted in finding the help they need to get them through their issues," he said.
In addition, the residents will pay a nominal rent for their housing,which they may be eligible to stay in for up to two years.
Asked how the homeless would come up with any type of rent, Logue said one of the case management tasks would be to aid residents in obtaining supplemental security income (SSI).
A representative from Utah's Homeless Task Force was also on hand at the April 3 meeting to support Logue's project.
"These type of facilities help the homeless move on to affordable housing, it helps them make the transition," said Lloyd Pendleton. "Most of the homeless just want to get back on their feet."
Pendleton shared a sobering statistic with the crowd.
"There is expected to be approximately 15,000 people who will be homeless this year," said Pendleton. "On any given night in Utah 3,000 people will be without shelter."
The state viewed Logue's project as an opportunity to provide affordable housing to the homeless people who meet the criteria, he said.
"We see this as very, very beneficial," explained Pendleton.
However, with the shift from an emergency shelter to transitional housing, Pendleton said there would be some stark realities.
Pendleton was asked what would happen to someone who came into town on the train looking for housing only to find the Avalon full.
"They need to get back on the train," replied Pendleton.
Mayor Mike Dalpiaz looked a bit dismayed at Pendleton's remark.
"That stinks," said the Helper mayor. "They will end up sleeping on the bank of the parkway."
With the full realization of the upcoming changes to the 30-year-old mission, Dalpiaz queried what would become of the homeless who could not be admitted.
Pendleton said, in some cases, that they could obtain vouchers from the police department for a night at a local hotel or motel.
In addition, he and Logue said they would be networking with emergency shelters in Salt Lake City.
"However, you may have some that end up sleeping on the bank," said Pendleton.
As the realities of battling homelessness appeared to set in, Dalpiaz said, "Don't we need a shelter?"
However, Joanie Westbrook, the interim director at Golden Rule, brought a little light to situation.
"We have a humanitarian fund," said Westbrook. "You know the bell ringers who collect during the holidays? They raised $16,000 this year."
She said the money can be pulled out of the fund to help people find housing.
By discussion's end, the Helper councilmembers thanked the developer for coming to town and addressing the concerns and reaffirmed support for the project.