NORTH COLUMBIA –A north Columbia merchants group is opposing the expansion of a homeless shelter and treatment facility in Eau Claire.
The Providence Home — which has served homeless, drug addicted and alcoholic men since the 1960s — wants to build a dormitory at its compound of buildings at 3421 N. Main St. The new building would allow the home to expand its capacity from 36 to 60 men.
But the North Columbia Business Association on Monday released a letter to the Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals opposing the expansion, not because the organization doesn’t do good work, but because of the concentration of similar facilities in the emerging North Main corridor, it said.
“We feel that the North Columbia area has shouldered an unfair burden in the amount of group help homes,” the letter said.
The nine-member board voted unanimously, Chairman Chris Barczak said. The zoning board will take up the issue at 10 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
The board noted that in addition to Providence, several other major group homes and service providers are in the area, including The Women’s Shelter, Transitions service center and the Christ Central complex of services.
The concentration of group homes and services is problematic as the city and county continues a multimillion-dollar project to widen and beautify North Main, hoping to stoke an emerging retail and hospitality corridor, board members said.
But members, individually, said it was a tough call.
“I’m still kind of in prayerful thought,” said association member Alex Zelling, co-owner of Palmetto Payroll Solutions, 9 Belleview Circle. “The ministry is vitally important to our community in general. They’ve been doing a great job. But when you’re try to redevelop (an area) . . . when is the concentration to the point where it becomes a detriment to the area?”
The Providence Home complex now includes two houses, two dormitories and a cafeteria. The home recently tore down a third home, which the new dormitory will replace.
Executive Director Rob Settle called the $750,000 project a “dream” for the organization, and noted that all of the money has been raised through private donations. Those backers include two large anonymous donors and more than a dozen churches, among them First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church and Shandon United Methodist Church.
“Citizens, especially property owners, have always been concerned about the problem of homelessness,” home officials said in a statement. “Homelessness causes concern about crime, drugs, panhandling on the street corners, etc.”
Providence Home’s mission “is to get homeless men off the street, off drugs and alcohol, help them obtain jobs and housing, and hopefully come into a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Providence Home is structured and secure, officials said. “We have a strict zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use (one strike and you are out), and we do regularly testing,” he said. “We have required curfew, and we do not allow loitering on the streets and sidewalks. We have mandatory meetings five times a week, plus we meet regularly with individual residents in a mentoring relationship. It is a place of strong accountability, both physically and spiritually.”
Many of the men have been referred by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, through the Dorn V.A. Hospital, Settle said.
However, Columbia City Council member Sam Davis, who represents north Columbia, said that he supports the merchants’ opposition. “The northern part of the city has become inundated with those types of facilities, and folks have made it clear that that is not their preference,” he said. “It would be good if people would look at other parts of the city to locate them. (The merchants) have the right to state their position (about the type of development) when you are trying to recruit business.”