The city opened a new homeless shelter on Municipal Way last spring, leaving behind the downtown location that served the community for decades. The new Kearney Center brings together housing, social services and healthcare all under the same roof. But some say the new facility is bringing old problems to a new location.
Walking through the brand new 24 hour facility, you’ll see rows of computers, advertisements for job fairs and meditation classes. Down the hall are individual offices for the 30 social agencies housed on site. There’s a dining room that feeds 500 people a day, and an average of 220 people stay every night. Director Jacob Reiter says the Kearney Center works to overcome homelessness, not just manage it.
“We keep people on a housing plan and there’s a time limit associated with it. And so as long as you’re working on your housing plan, you’re welcome to stay with us, but the goal is to transition you into housing,” he said.
The new facility is bringing change to the neighborhood, and some residents say that change is not for the better. Community members are concerned about loitering, public drinking, and say they don’t feel safe in their homes and businesses. But Kearney center staff say the people using their services aren’t the ones causing problems. They argue some individuals who are homeless don’t want their help. Mayor Andrew Gillum says other cities may have solutions.
“Are there cities that have figured out some constructive things to do with the unserved homeless pop that would normally be loitering outside of certain venues or spaces cause we can’t be the only ones who deal with this kind of problem," he said.
Law enforcement maintain that they don’t want to arrest people who congregate in public spaces. Simply asking loiterers to move from point A to point B won’t solve the problem either. As Sheriff Mike Wood says, sooner or later, point B is gonna call. The Kearney Center will continue to work with the city and law enforcement as the neighborhood transitions.