Community Inn organizers get feedback on possible sites

kward1@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2013 

Members of the public had the opportunity Monday night to submit written comments about five potential new sites for the Community Inn, a homeless shelter that has been at the center of a legal battle with the city over its location on Winchester Road.

About 100 people attended the meeting at Central Christian Church.

Several expressed disappointment that there was no group dialogue about the shelter's plans. There also was no formal presentation about the sites under consideration.

"I cannot get behind an organization or anyone that's not going to answer the concerns of the community," said Michael Stuart, who lives in the Meadowthorpe neighborhood.

Attendees were asked to visit stations set up for each of the potential locations: 166 North Martin Luther King Boulevard, 1353 West Main Street, 1400 North Forbes Road, 353 Waller Avenue and 219 East Short Street. Organizers also have suggested they could consider opening smaller shelters in multiple locations.

Each participant was given a sticker to place on the location they liked best. The Waller Avenue site, which was previously a nursing home, received the most votes, 25.

Ginny Ramsey, one of the co-founders of the Catholic Action Center, which started the Community Inn in cooperation with Emmanuel Apostolic Church, previously said the Waller Avenue location could be ideal for the services the homeless community needs, such as a clinic.

The property on North Martin Luther King came in a close second, with 22 votes. Ramsey has said that it probably is out because it is near Sayre School.

Don Bertoldo stood up at the beginning of the meeting and suggested two possible properties near Lexington Cemetery.

"I am presuming the permanent residents nearest to that site would not object to having the Community Inn relocate there," he said of a vacant lot on West Main Street.

But Tayna Fogle said she thought fear was playing a large part in the difficulties the shelter is having in finding a location.

"If not my backyard, whose?" she later asked. "Whose backyard can they go to?"

The Community Inn began looking at potential new sites after city officials revoked the conditional use permit of its Winchester Road location in June 2012. City officials said organizers had told them the facility would be used as a church, not a homeless shelter.

The inn continues to operate at that location as appeals of the city's decision are pending in court.

Mayor Jim Gray announced recently that the city would not back the inn's proposal to open a center for the homeless at Lorillard Lofts off Leestown Road. Several bordering neighborhoods had complained.

The city had given the Community Inn a list of more than 60 locations that are zoned for a homeless shelter. The five locations now under consideration were picked based on size, location, availability and ability to retrofit, Ramsey has said.

"We need to start making some moves to be permanent," she said during a brief interview Monday. "We just know we have to be somewhere."

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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