City mulls allowing homeless shelters

City mulls allowing homeless shelters

After issuing zoning violations to several Charlottesville city homeless shelters that have or threaten to shut down their operations, the city is considering changes to the process that could make it easier for shelters to get special-use permits to operate.

Josh Bare runs a homeless shelter at the Hope Community Center with his father, Harold.
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As C-VILLE reported last week, the latest shelter hit with a violation is the Hope Community Center, a 30- to 40-bed facility opened to the homeless in November by Covenant Church Pastor Harold Bare. Because Hope is located on 11th Street NW in a residential neighborhood, an evening shelter is not allowed under city code. Bare was notified as such at the end of February. The shelter will remain open for the rest of this month as Bare tackles the zoning dispute.

The city is now considering changing its zoning ordinances to allow special-use permits for homeless shelters. It plans to check with other localities for precedents. Even though evening homeless shelters are not technically allowed to operate in the city, it’s exploring the possibility of allowing Bare to operate under a special-use permit for a boarding house, according to city spokesman Ric Barrick. To obtain that permit, Bare would need permission from City Council.

Last year, Bare agreed to rent out the Hope Community Center as an evening homeless shelter to the now defunct organization COMPASS. Neither COMPASS nor Bare sought city approvals. In December, COMPASS fell apart without ever paying Bare, but he opted to operate the shelter with the help of his son, Josh, in order to provide for 20 to 30 homeless people caught in the middle of the disputes. Bare presumed, incorrectly, that as a church-related facility, Hope didn’t need city approval.

PACEM, an interfaith organization, operates a homeless shelter throughout the winter at several local churches in two-week rotations. PACEM, which is run by Mayor Dave Norris, worked out an exception with the city’s Neighborhood Development Services in 2004, granted because the housing is only temporarily provided at any one church.

The deadline has passed for Bare to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), but the city has granted an extension and the matter could come as soon as the March 20 BZA meeting. Another legal outlet would be for Bare to apply for a special-use permit for a boarding house.

“The city wants to find homes for people who don’t have them,” says Barrick, indicating that Charlottesville is willing to work with Hope as long as it goes through the official zoning process. “As a community, the need outnumbers the supply.”

The need will soon grow, despite warming weather. On March 15, PACEM’s round-robin doors will close as scheduled and suddenly 50 to 60 of the area’s homeless will have nowhere to stay at night. According to Norris, many will move outside to one of the makeshift camps, while others will fall back on their own cunning or the generosity of someone else. Or, at least for a little longer, they can head over to the Hope Community Center.

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Correction April 22: This article originally stated that the Hope Community Center was located on 11th Street NE, when in fact it is located on 11th Street NW. The correction has been made above.