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Council: Study city-owned sites for homeless shelters

031419 Homeless Shelter?

Elizabeth City officials have been asked to study whether the city should use vacant city-owned properties like this foreclosed-on house at 207 East Cypress Street as a homeless shelter.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

With Elizabeth City and Pasquotank officials at an impasse over opening a homeless shelter in a county-owned building, City Council is considering a backup plan: opening one or two shelters on foreclosed properties owned by the city.

At its regular meeting Monday night, councilors voted unanimously to have city staff research foreclosed properties that could be used for a homeless shelter. They also voted to delay action on a lease for 311 Cedar Street, a former public health building that county commissioners had offered for a homeless shelter, but on terms city officials declined to accept.

Monday's meeting continues months of back and forth on the issue of a homeless shelter, which Councilor Darius Horton persuaded councilors to pursue last summer.

In October, City Manager Rich Olson identified 311 Cedar Street, a county-owned building, as a possible site for a homeless shelter, but city and county officials haven't been able to agree on lease terms. Commissioners are set to discuss the lease again during their finance committee meeting on Monday.

Earlier this week, Horton urged councilors not to act on the lease until after commissioners discuss it. Councilor Kem Spence, agreed, but also said the city needs a backup plan. He proposed city staff research city-owned residential properties — homes seized through tax foreclosure but not yet resold — as possible homeless shelter sites.

Spence also called for the city to consider opening not one, but two shelters: one for women, as had been proposed, and one for men. There are many homeless men who need help as well, Spence said.

Councilor Jeannie Young also informed councilors Monday that she's been contacting both individuals and churches to see if they'd volunteer labor and materials to fix up the city's former homeless shelter at 709 Herrington Road.

Young said she’s received offers of support from B&M Contractors, Pureza Construction, Watts Remodeling, plumbing companies, and churches.

Spence noted that city staff have determined the former shelter at 709 Herrington Road to be beyond repair — or at least requiring more work than the property is worth — and suggested those volunteers could instead help with whatever alternate sites are found.

Community support could reduce the city's renovation costs and allow the city's earmark for the homeless shelter, $50,000, to be spent on operating it, he noted, which was original intent for the money.

Other city councilors agreed with Spence's alternative option. Rickey King, council’s mayor pro tem, also predicted the county wouldn't “budge” on its lease offer.

In a followup interview Tuesday, Olson said the two properties the city owns now that have structures on them are 207 E. Cypress Street and 304 E. Broad Street. Asked if the sites are viable options for a homeless shelter, Olson said that depends on several factors, including how many people would occupy them.

Olson also reiterated he considers non-residential structures preferable for a homeless shelter. Housing multiple adults puts a lot of demand on a building, including in utilities and routine wear and tear, he said.

County Manager Sparty Hammett confirmed Tuesday that commissioners are set to discuss the shelter lease again during their finance committee meeting on Monday. However, he was skeptical commissioners would agree to lease only part of the building, as the city has requested. Few tenants would likely want to share the building with a homeless shelter, he said.

Hammett also said some people have contacted the county about buying the building, though no formal offers have been made.

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