The Institute for Human Services is canceling plans to develop a short-term transition facility for the chronically homeless at a Chinatown building, but will look for another location in the area, the nonprofit agency said this morning.
Plans for IHS to use $2.6 million in federal grant money, approved by the city, to purchase and renovate a three-story building at 65 North Beretania Street drew immense opposition from Chinatown businesses, residents and politicians who said they weren’t consulted about what they see as another in a string of homeless-related facilities in the area.
“IHS had initially identified a property on Beretania Street,” the agency said in a statement. “However, after due diligence, including discussions with current tenants and the community, IHS has determined that the property is not ideal and will continue to look for a property with the desired configuration for a triage and transfer station.”
City and IHS officials said they wanted to move quickly because the money is tied to the federal government’s CARES Act emergency funding to combat the impacts of COVID-19 and that they always intended to discuss the proposal with the community and move through an environmental assessment process before closing the deal.
“Once we learned we had received the grant, we began a process of engaging the community in discussion to explore how the initiative could be implemented successfully,” IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell said.
The nonprofit held community meetings, one of them in a virtual manner attended by more than 170 people, Mitchell said.
“We are an organization of bringing the community together for the betterment of all,” she said. “We listen to what people have to say and have gotten an overwhelming response that people appreciate the work we do to end homelessness, but many were not in favor of the selected site. We will continue to look for the right location for this endeavor.”
A triage-and-transfer station would “get the most vulnerable off of the streets permanently,” Mitchell said. “We also believe this center will make the streets immediately surrounding the area safer for the public and better for the neighboring businesses. We have a lot more work to do in this area and we’ve only started the discussion with the community and that discussion will continue.”
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city continues to support the goals of a homeless triage center. “But we believe it is a prudent decision to take a step back from this site and collaborate with community leaders on locations that would be better suited,” the mayor said, in a release.
The city invited public comment and, like IHS, has also “heard from community members that this isn’t the right location, so we will partner to find other options for a much-needed stabilization program,” Caldwell said.
City Community Services Director Pam Witty-Oakland said the city has been working with the Chinatown community for years to address chronic homelessness.
“This was not a completed deal, as community engagement is part of our process in all we do, and we look forward to this being an ongoing dialogue with the community regarding solutions within Chinatown that address this unique and challenging population,” Witty-Oakland said.
Area political and community leaders were scheduled to hold an 11 a.m. press conference in front of the building to reiterate their concerns about the project.