City Council members unanimously approved a one-year extension Wednesday to the agreement that allows Gateway to Hope to use a building on East Valentine Street. Gateway to Hope is a day shelter for the homeless focused on helping them re-enter society.
Gateway to Hope spent the last year re-modeling the former city building and then opening up to help the homeless. As of this month, the shelter was at the end of a one-year permit and--until Wednesday--the city was caught between the good the shelter does and some angry neighbors.
The El Regio chicken restaurant was on Valentine street before Gateway to Hope opened its doors. After living with his new neighbor, owner Manuel Mendez said business is down 60%.
"I always stay in communication with them but I feel like nothing is being done," Mendez said with the assistance of a translator.
Mendez said the shelter creates a halo effect of homeless people who end up bothering his customers and begging for money.
"People [are] sleeping around they building," he said. "They leave trash behind."
Knowing that gateway's year-long permit to use the building was almost up, Mendez and others took their fight to City Hall.
"We're not against this program," Eleno Licea said. "We think this is God's work. We really do."
The opposition wants that work done somewhere else, but they were up against grateful people during the city council meeting who are back on their feet thanks to Gateway to Hope.
"There comes a point in somebody's life where they just lose everything," Bill McCarter said. "And I lost everything. If it was not for Gateway, I would not have a place to go during the day to find a job, to wash my clothes."
"[The opportunity] for us to get out into the community and get back on our feet after 9 months only came through Gateway," another woman said.
Gateway manager Jimmy Criswell said the shelter is an easy scapegoat for a problem that some view as an eye-sore.
"Homelessness has been there for a while," Criswell said.
The original year's agreement essentially called for Gateway to be a good neighbor, causing no disruptions.
"Part of that was no loitering and no foul language," Criswell said. "No hanging out in the neighborhoods."
Some believe they came close to meeting that goal, but others don't. Despite claims that police had been called to the area in the past, Police Chief Gary Swindle told city council members he had no record of calls to that area since the shelter opened.
"Families don't let their kids play in the yard because there are always people walking around on that side of the street," Mendez said.
Criswell said every visitor is told not to loiter in the surrounding neighborhood. Now the shelter has another year to prove it can be a good neighbor.
"Each day we're open we're able to help," Criswell said.
The new extension on Gateway's permit for this building also extends the hours they can be open. They plan to start offering G.E.D. classes in the evenings.
The shelter was hoping for a five-year extension to their building permit. An extension like that is still a possibility if everyone involved is happy with the way things go during the next year.
Gateway to Hope is also working to build a privacy fence on the south end of the building, and on moving the smoking area to the back side.