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After heated debate, city approves warming center site

  • City Manager Gary Williams speaks during Tuesday's city council meeting.

    City Manager Gary Williams speaks during Tuesday's city council meeting.
    Geoff Ritter photo

updated: 1/11/2019 1:36 AM

A respite from the cold to help the local homeless population is coming to a prominent part of town, but only after objections from nearby business owners and others threatened to derail that plan.

The Carbondale City Council voted Tuesday to grant a zoning certificate to allow two temporary, modular units to be erected at 800 E. Main St. through the duration of the cold months. The project is the result of a partnership among organizations including the Carbondale Interfaith Council, the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless, the Good Samaritan House, the Sparrow Coalition, the Carbondale Public Library, Centerstone, the Jackson County Health Department, the SIU Clinical Center and the city of Carbondale.

City Manager Gary Williams said the highly visible property was chosen after almost every other option was eliminated due to proximity to a park or school -- something that would prohibit the shelter's use by sex offenders.

"We really ran out of all those options pretty early," Williams said.

The proposal ran into objections from some residents and nearby business owners, who say they already face issues with panhandlers bothering their customers and staff.

Mike Wright, who owns the shopping center to the east of the site, said he has experienced property damage related to the problem; Chan San, who co-owns nearby Hunan, said the shelter's presence might just add to problems he already has had for many years.

"We have enough problems on my property," San said. "This is my life investment. I don't want any of my clientele, my staff in danger."

In addition, council members Jeff Doherty and Navreet Kang, while agreeing with the need for such a space, said they had reservations about supporting it at that site since the city's usual zoning process had not been followed.

Council members Adam Loos and Carolin Harvey both pushed back against objections, insisting that providing a warm space for the most vulnerable in the community is the only compassionate option, and that delaying any action would risk entering the coldest season of the year without a viable shelter.

"This is something we need to do," Harvey said. "Whether we see them or not, they're there. This is an issue that is not going away. We need to address it, and we need to address it now."

The measure ultimately passed 5-2, with Doherty and Kang casting the nay votes.

The plan is for the warming center to operate from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., as needed, dependent on the weather. The seasonal facility will close by April 1.

The center will be professionally staffed by paid employees as well as unpaid volunteers. The facility will serve up to 24 individuals.

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