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Homeless Shelter Raises Concerns At Nearby Day Care Center

As it does each winter, the Community Shelter Board plans to open a winter overflow center for the homeless. This year, the Shelter Board was forced to find a new location after their rental property was sold. The board found a new site, but it has received push back from some residents and businesses near the site. Young children play inside Creative Child Care located on Industrial Mile just off West Broad Street. The 40-year-old daycare facility looks brand new. There's an indoor "forest" play area with life-like turf. Its owners recently spent $1 million to expand and renovate the center. But the daycare says there's a snag. The Community Shelter Board intends to use the building next door as its winter overflow homeless center. Even the homeless shelter will operate at night, and is closed during the day, when the child care center's kids are there, Creative Child Care director Lori Russell said parents still worry. "Parents are concerned about people hanging out; drug abuse; mental illness that usually runs in the homeless community," Russell said. "Any kind of random chance of someone coming up to the fence because our playground actually looks at the shelter." Russell said the daycare's workers already are "highly vigilant" about the children's safety, but, "We just don't want to take that chance. And that's what parents are concerned about, is the chance that something that could happen, not that if it will or it does, the chance." Russell says she's compassionate for the homeless, but says a shelter next to a childcare facility is unsafe. And she worries she'll lose clients soon after her costly renovation The Shelter Board's executive director Michelle Heritage disagrees. "Our two largest men's shelters are located in close proximity to daycares. We've never had [an] incident." The Shelter Board didn't necessarily want to move its winter overflow center to Industrial Mile. But after its previous rental space was sold in the spring, the organization had to find a new location. Heritage says the Shelter Board visited roughly 60 buildings, and the one on the West Side is their only option. "Many sites weren't interested in us using them when they found out that it would be for a shelter. And so many sites did want to cooperate and did want to work with us, but they just weren't appropriate," Heritage said. "And it could be anything. It could be too big and we couldn't control the site; or they might be too small; or they didn't have a sprinkler system that would make sure folks were safe." The current site will accommodate up to 190 single men and women. Heritage said the board is drafting the most comprehensive Good Neighbor Agreement they've negotiated. It includes extra security, criminal background checks on clients to screen out sex offenders, and loitering prevention. "Either having a COTA bus stop right in front of the shelter so that people can get on that bus and go. And if that's not possible, we have already researched a shuttle service that would shuttle people directly to a bus stop so people won't be walking down the street and they won't be loitering," Heritage noted. And the Shelter Board said it will put up a fence, a request of Creative Child Care. The daycare center is not the only business to oppose the shelter. Owners of a neighboring apartment complex undergoing renovations are fighting the shelter proposal. The Community Shelter Board has its share of supporters. Dona England-Afek directs the Columbus Center for Human Services located two buildings down from the proposed shelter. The center assists people with mental and physical disabilities. "When I moved into this community nobody wanted us here 35 years ago because they didn't want 'those people' moving in," England-Afek said. "And the community has learned a good lesson from that. There's still a lesson to be learned with providing services to human beings." England-Afek, who sits on the ADAM-H board, offered to facilitate alcohol and drug abuse counseling at the shelter. "I think we need to take this opportunity to do something good and not be so fearful of it. And at least begin the process to pilot it, to look at it, to see what we can do to make it a success versus denying the opportunity," she said. The shelter is slated to open later this month. But first must meet zoning requirements and receive an occupancy permit. And attorneys for Creative Child Care filed a lawsuit to ensure the property is up to code before it opens.