Phoenix Rescue Mission, a charitable organization serving the homeless, is planning to expand its men’s facility in southwest Phoenix.
But some of its business neighbors are fighting the proposal, saying it’s bad for the neighborhood.
The mission plans to add three new buildings to accompany the existing structure on the mission’s property at 35th Avenue and Cocopah Street.
Phoenix approved the mission’s use permit in September, but neighbors are appealing to the city’s Board of Adjustment. A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7.
Dan Mardian, president of the nearby Marco Crane & Rigging Co., filed the appeal. He said the mission’s expansion will have an adverse effect on the community.
Mardian’s appeal cited increased foot traffic, “excessive vagrancy” and “degrading of property values” as examples of the expansion’s adverse effects on the area.
Mission officials look to the expansion as a means to help more people, which they believe could in turn decrease homelessness in the area.
“What they’re trying to portray is we’re a shelter or a soup kitchen,” Ken Quartermain, project manager of the expansion, said, adding that is not entirely accurate.
“Word has been out on the streets” that the mission’s focus is to enter clients into long-term programs, so it hasn’t been a place where crowds of homeless tend to gather, Quartermain said.
The mission currently sets aside 32 of its 160 beds for emergency overnight clients, while the rest are reserved for longer-term rehabilitation programs, he said.
The new warehouse, multipurpose and recovery buildings would provide more space for the mission to expand its residential recovery program. They would include room for more computers, meeting space and living areas.
The expansion will run about $11 million.
“Most all of our money comes from private donations,” Quartermain said.
The existing building will stay on the property.
Quartermain estimates construction would take about nine months, and wants to be close to finishing or done by the end of 2018.
Phoenix included several requirements for the new use permit to help mitigate some of the neighbors’ concerns:
- Communicating with the community on the impact of expansion plans.
- Working with Phoenix police.
- Placing video cameras throughout facility and enroll in virtual block watch with the police department.
- Not feeding, hydrating or counseling clients alongside or on 35th Avenue outside of the property.
- Posting at least two signs directing pedestrians to use the crosswalk and not jaywalk.
- Limiting the number of residents to 250.
- Conducting regular reviews and report back to the zoning officer every six months for 18 months.
Hal Owens, president of Precision Components Inc. across the street from Phoenix Rescue Mission, said his concern is that the mission has deviated from a prior use permit that indicated the intent was to serve families and not individual men.
“We’re very concerned about it,” he said.
Part of the stipulation for the existing use permit was that the mission serve a maximum of 32 families. A zoning hearing officer had previously interpreted that this meant 160 individuals, defining a family as five people.
Tricia Gomes, a special projects administrator at the City of Phoenix, said the mission is able to operate as a homeless shelter within a quarter mile of a residential district because the facility precedes an ordinance prohibiting this proximity.
But the planned expansion required the mission to get a new use permit.
Mardian said he supports the residents involved in the mission’s long-term recovery and residentialprograms.
“There’s tremendous need in our community,” Mardian said of the mission’s services for the homeless, but added he filed the appeal to clarify the stipulations of the use permit.
He said the mission should not be operating as a short-term homeless shelter.
“They don’t have enough security,” Mardian said.
He is concerned that the expansion would prompt an increase in homeless gathering outside and around the mission and impact the businesses, residences and schools in the area.
Owens also said he was concerned about residences and other nearby businesses.
“It could destroy the business environment as it has been downtown,” he said.
He doesn’t oppose the premise of the mission’s residential program, but takes issue with it acting as a daily shelter.
“If it was truly long term,” he wouldn’t have a problem, Owens said.
Precision Components has been at its locationsince 1962. Owens said he has seen an increase in the homeless population and human waste since Phoenix Rescue Mission began operating out of the 35th Avenue facility in 1991.
Gomes said multiple tests are carried out to determine if an entity will have an adverse effect on the community, which is how use permits are granted, including potential decreases in property values.
While the zoning hearing officer ruled in September that there would be no adverse effect on the community, the Board of Adjustment could disagree and overrule that decision Dec. 7.
Phoenix Rescue Mission President and CEO Jay A. Cory said the area is the problem, and the mission is part of the solution.
Quartermain agreed, and said the mission is not some kind of “hub” to which most homeless travel without an expectation of participating in along-term recovery program.
Renee Dominguez is a community member and Phoenix Rescue Mission supporter. She has lived in the area since the 1990s, and said she remembers when homeless would often live in the park across the street from her home.
“We’ve always had a homeless problem,” she said.
Now, she sees none there, and said she believes the mission has actually reduced the number of homeless on the streets in the area.
About 25 percent of emergency clients enter the “Rescue, Assess and Place” program, which could lead to temporary shelter and services for up to 90 days, a residential recovery program that runs for 12 to 18 months or connection with an external program or provider.
Cory said this rate is “wildly successful” due to the reluctance of many to seek help. “We want to keep [emergency] shelter very small,” he said.
Jerome Williams, for example, traveled from Georgia to recover from alcoholism at the mission. He said his experience with Cory, who previously oversaw a Georgia institution, led him to Phoenix.
Cory said the mission has policies and procedures to mitigate security issues at the facility.
The Mission’s third-party security patrols the fenced property 24/7 and its intake requirements include verifiable ID and no record of violent or sexual crimes, he said.
Mardian and other business owners have suggested it’s time for the mission to move out of the area entirely.
Mardian recommended a 300-acre government property for sale along the Salt River canal. There, the mission “wouldn’t bother anybody and be better for the people” because there would be more free outdoor space, he said.
The mission is opposed to this idea.
Cory said they have no plans to move. The mission owns the property on which it is located, and helps provide food and other resources to nearby schools.
State and county jails are also located directly north and south of the mission, respectively.
“Some of our most successful people walk by after [leaving] jail,” Cory said.
Quartermain said the mission’s expansion could revitalize a historically static part of town.
“When you build something new it attracts other people to build something new,” he said.
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