Van Wert City residents showed up to Monday's City Council meeting in support and in opposition to the location of Haven of Hope's purposed homeless shelter. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Van Wert City residents showed up to Monday's City Council meeting in support and in opposition to the location of Haven of Hope's purposed homeless shelter. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Citizens filled Council Chambers during Monday’s City Council meeting wanting to speak on the topic of the Haven of Hope homeless shelter that is planned for 233 N. Market St. Some citizens came in support of the shelter, while others opposed its location and wondered if the zoning was correct for a shelter to be located in that spot.

Last week Van Wert City Administration decided that a homeless shelter, which currently has no definition in City Ordinances, would fall under “Semi-Public Use,” which can be placed at R1, R2, R3, B2, and B3 zones. Administration then determined that a zoning application wasn't necessary. Market Street resident Chris Wilson approached Council with a zoning question, asking whether homeless shelters did indeed fall under “Semi-Public Use” and encouraged Council to look at defining homeless shelters in City Code.

“This means that if a homeless shelter fell under ‘Semi-Public Use’ it can go just about anywhere in the city except the industrial districts without any type of hearing or approval,” said Wilson. “During my research on the internet, homeless shelters present issues in many communities. Almost everyone seems to be in agreement with the concept, but there is a lot of controversy regarding the appropriate place to put them and how they should be regulated.”

Wilson argued that homeless shelters should fall under the same Zoning Board approval process as assisted livings, group homes, clinics, adult foster care facilities, and similar services.

“Going forward, Council needs to take a proactive role in this and address the appropriate location for homeless shelters and what regulations are necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of both clients and the public,” said Wilson.

East Sycamore resident Lisa Agler also spoke. She lives adjacent to the proposed shelter and was concerned for the safety and well-being of her two grandchildren.

"I'm going to have to worry about my children being out there," said Agler who said she spoke to Haven of Hope representatives about concerns and left the conversation more concerned. "I don't want my children to be around these people coming in knowing that they can't bring drugs or whatever and then dropping syringes or who knows what on the way to this."

Agler was also concerned about her property value, saying that "nobody wants it (a homeless shelter) in their back yard." She also voiced concern about whether the facility would be staffed at all times. She said she felt the facility would be better on Main Street, away from the residential area.

Council also heard from Andy McMahon, who will be overseeing the Haven of Hope project. McMahon said he and the Haven of Hope Board of Directors are more than willing to listen to anyone’s concerns and noted that all of their meetings have been public.

"We are not the only homeless shelter in town," said McMahon. "The Crisis Care is a homeless shelter for those that suffer from domestic abuse and other similar problems. There is also the YWCA. They have a homeless shelter for women at this time. The Crisis Care is in a residential area and at least one of the YWCA ones is in a residential area."

Pastor Kurt Tomlinson of Trinity United Methodist Church also spoke on behalf of Haven of Hope.

"I hear the fear and it's very real for people that are worried," said Tomlinson who explained research had been done that included visiting other shelters that were in residential areas. "The reality is that an empty building, that has been sitting there for a long period of time, is less safe than a maintained, staffed, noticed property with lights and cameras. I believe the kids in the neighborhood will be safer."

Tomlinson provided anecdotes from businesses and property owners who have had buildings broken into due to homeless people seeking refuge. He said he feels the shelter will prevent this and make the community safer.

Council voted to deny the administration's decision to determine an application wasn't necessary, which means that Haven of Hope will have to apply for a variance from the Zoning Board. The Zoning Board will then approve or disapprove a variance depending on if they believe homeless shelters fall under the definition of "Semi-Public Use." If either party does not like the decision of the Zoning Board, they can appeal it to Van Wert City Council who could then vote to decide whether to uphold the Zoning Board's decision or to overturn it.

Council plans to look at other municipalities' definition of homeless shelters to work on forming zoning ordinances that fit the term to avoid future confusion.

In other business, Council approved several funding transfers and a supplemental appropriation. They also approved an ordinance to authorize the Safety-Service Director to sign a contract with Pleasant Township for fire protection services. 

Council voted to approve the second reading of an ordinance to modify the speed limit on North Franklin Street to 20 mph in the school zone and voted to approve the second reading of the temporary budget.

With no further business, Council adjourned. The next City Council meeting is Dec. 9 at 6:30 p.m. A special meeting was set at 6 p.m. to hear a zoning appeal from Joe Jared regarding his building on West Main Street.