Ontario's temporary shelter gets walk-thru and recommendations from police chief

Bags hang off the doors of the tiny homes which comprise Ontario's transitional homeless shelter at 123 N.W. Third Ave in December of 2020.

ONTARIO

Ontario City Council took up the topic of extending the length of the transitional homeless shelter located at 123 N.W. Third Ave. The shelter site was intended for the purpose of providing shelter for individuals during the winter.

The project, a collaborative effort between local non-profit housing assistance agency Community in Action and Origins Faith Community’s outreach team has been in operation at the current site since early December of 2020.

The agencies held a “shelter extension discussion” on April 16 with neighbors in the area around the site in regard to seeking an extension for the shelter to June 30, a flyer sent out prior to the discussion encouraged “neighbors and community members to attend.”

Heather Echeveste of Origins Faith Community, who oversees operations at the site, in an email received on Tuesday morning, said that the meeting went well but “didn’t have many neighbors make it” due to the time it was held at – 1 to 2 p.m.

She said that for the neighbors that did attend, the feedback that was received was “great” and she said that she felt it was an “honest conversation” as they heard both negative and positive feedback from those in attendance.

An increase in trash accumulation was a topic that Echeveste explained that one neighbor noted, while another neighbor disagreed and said that trash in that area is “an ongoing issue” and has seen “passersby throwing trash out their car windows.”

She said one neighbor was concerned about traffic in the area and “her family’s comfort with being outside in their yard.” Echeveste said that this neighbor was given “a lot of information” and was the shown the camera surveillance system that were installed at the site, in addition to getting a direct phone number of someone working directly with the shelter if she “had further concerns or any issues.”

Echeveste also noted that members of the city council had showed up at the site.

“Councilman Eddie Melendrez and Councilman Freddy Rodriguez attended and both asked clarifying questions and gave comments. Eddie Melendrez actually went door to door to some of the neighbors, in the days leading up to it, and asked them directly about their feelings on the extension,” she wrote.

Request posed

Barb Higinbotham, executive director of Community in Action, addressed the council at the meeting and started off her presentation by saying that there are “over 300” homeless individuals in our county.

She then told the council that the first shelter project at the previous location was an important component in finding more permanent or “step-up housing” for 38 families.

Councilor Ken Hart questioned why this location is the best spot for the transitional shelter.

Higinbotham said that the current location is “ideal” and it “checks a lot of those basic boxes” for operation.

She also said that the owner of the property, Stephanie Cook, offered this land free of charge to be used for this project.

Cook, who spoke after Higinbotham, confirmed this and added that “the property is not in the best part of town,” but that the grounds have been improved as a result of the shelter as the site had to be prepped to accommodate the tiny house structures and be cleared of weeds and other debris.

Community concerns

Members of the public were present to submit their testimony regarding the transitional shelter including neighbor Allan Vincent who said he has lived in that neighborhood “since 1973.” He said that since the shelter has been in place there has been an increase in trash and refuse. Vincent also said that the fences surrounding the shelter site need to be “taller.” He said that he was also in opposition to an extension for the site.

Susan Vincent, Allan Vincent’s wife, also provided testimony saying “I don’t feel safe” and how she feels that site “attracts the homeless.” She also said that with the installation of cameras “it’s a little better.”

Extension request denied

When the motion to extend the transitional shelter term to the end of June came around, three councilors: John Kirby, Michael Braden and Eddie Melendrez voted to approve the extension while Council President Freddie Rodriguez, Sam Baker, Ken Hart and Mayor Hill all voted “no.” The motion failed and upon doing so, proponents of the extension vocally voiced their disappointment with the decision. One suggestion from the group was to move the shelter residents into the vacant lot next to the mayor’s residence as those people will have no place to go once the transitional site closes and “sixteen families” will be without shelter.

Request- take two

Hill, later in the meeting, wanted to revisit the transitional homeless shelter topic and acknowledged that the individuals living there would only have ten days to vacate the premises, which he called a “short order.”

He said that at the beginning of the meeting, he was under the impression that the extension was only going to be requested through May, not June.

Hill said that he sought a consensus from the council as it pertains to amending the extension request to allow the shelter site to remain open through the end of May.

A second motion was introduced and the extension through May was unanimously approved.

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