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Council looking at spot on North end, by Sonic Drive-In. Rumors of protest did not materialize at city council meeting

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Tent Site at the proposed location for the new homeless shelter

With a $1.5 million Community Block Grant and $750,000 from the State Legislature, the City of Madras now has $2.25 million to spend on a permanent facility to serve the county's unhoused population.

Now comes the often sticky question for a community: where to locate the shelter?

The city has not yet purchased property, but it's close.

"We hope to have terms to you with in the next week," said City Administrator Gus Burril at the city council's Nov. 9 meeting. "No later than two weeks."

Planners have narrowed their search to a piece of property near the Sonic Drive-In on the north end of town where Highway 97 splits into two one-way streets.

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - The City of Madras wants to build a new homeless shelter within the city limits. They're looking at a plot of land near the North Y 'Welcome to Madras' sign. The property sits behind the Sonic Drive-In.

"It's in the Urban Renewal District. It's not close to schools," said Burril. "There's not a lot of development around it. It's zoned Commercial C-1."

The city had looked at another location someone might have donated. Burril says the lot was closer to schools and in a flood plain, which the grant agency would not allow.

Planners want to locate the shelter close to downtown.

"We're very nervous getting too far out of our core. We've had a couple people killed," said Burril referring to two instances of clients of the shelter who were struck and killed by vehicles while walking in Madras. "It's just not safe."

Messages circulating on social media implied people might attend the city council meeting to protest the location. No one spoke up at the meeting or on Zoom.

Some have complained to Burril. "Some of the concerns I've heard are about existing conditions where we have some garbage, where we have folks not using the public facilities, hanging out, camping."

In fact homeless people already gather in the area, live in tents, or sleep out in the open. The lot itself has a history.

"We cleared an old house off that was actually attracting nuisance," says Burril. "We were getting ambulance and law enforcement saying we really don't like responding here. Can you clean it up a little bit?"

Burril says he's confident the facility will improve the community wherever it locates because of the track record of the organization operating the shelter, the Jefferson County Faith Based Network.

"At the Grasslands building where we've had weeds, grass, sleeping bags, garbage unattended," said Burril of the current shelter. "It's been cleaner than ever this last year as they managed the site."

FBN Executive Director Tony Mitchell came to the council meeting prepared for criticism.

"We recognize there are conflicting and diverse perspectives on the best way to serve this population," Mitchell said. "Where should the center be? What should be the size? What might be the composition of services?"

Currently FBN provides a warming shelter during the winter months from November through March, and this summer began providing a cooling shelter when temperatures exceed 100 degrees.

"Currently we operate the shelter to save lives," said Mitchell. "In moving forward it's very clear there's more opportunity to make a dent in homelessness. In doing so it's important to provide other services in addition to the shelter."

Pat Abernathy has managed the shelter the last four years, offering a warm place to sleep, three meals, showers and clean clothes. She looks forward to being able to provide more.

"It's not that they don't know they can live a different life. It's just that they go in a downward spiral," said Abernathy. "Our goal is to be that hand of the Lord under that downward spiral so they can regroup and reevaluate what they're doing, so they can see themselves in a more normal society. They don't have to stay there."

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