Homeless shelter supporters pack council chambers

Homeless shelter supporters pack council chambers

Image Credit: File

More than 20 people attended the Dec. 12 meeting of New Philadelphia City Council to share their views on a newly proposed location for building a new homeless shelter on Beaver Avenue.

“At any given time, up to one-third of the residents of the shelter are children, 10% or more of the shelter’s residents are veterans (and) 80% are residents of Tuscarawas County," Josh O'Farrell said. "Though East Elementary School is within this general vicinity, the superintendent of New Philadelphia City Schools fully supports construction of the shelter at this location. Some will argue that the value of the properties around the area will be negatively impacted. Not according to Kathy Pietro, who visited the proposed site and studied the property values of nearby homes."

O’Farrell shared comments made by Mayor Day in November 2019 at the annual Friends of the Homeless Benefit Dinner, complimenting the shelter, and pointed out the new facility would be funded through private donations and grants, not taxpayer dollars.

Pastor Ben Lippert of the Schoenbrunn Moravian Church presented a petition signed by 200 city residents in support of locating the shelter on Beaver Avenue.

“Friends of the Homeless is not just something 12 people on board sit around and support. It is something our churches and Tuscarawas County support,” Lippert said.

David Maus said he lives in the neighborhood of the proposed facility and voiced concerns about increased traffic. Current property owner Albert DeMattio said the plan is for shelter guests to use a street in the back and that there should be no noticeable increase in traffic.

Angie England of Dover discussed her past drug addiction. “After rehab I went to the homeless shelter. They gave me all the tools that I needed to start my life over again," she said. "Today I’m 18 months sober, and I have my own apartment."

Susa Behn said she lives within one block of the current shelter’s location. “I have never once had any trouble,” she said.

Behn said she often rents rooms to those who have been helped by the shelter. “They're more decent than those that don't pay their rent and walk out.”

Matt Ritzert, a volunteer at the shelter, said it provides a family atmosphere where everyone tries to help one another. “I see guests doing chores. I see guests leaving to go to jobs. I see children coming home from school. I see guests working with the staff to find permanent housing.”

Jeff Mathias addressed a question from Law Director Marvin Fete about the former site of the Twilight Drive-In Theater, which was recommended by the city. “They want $425,000 for it, and to burrow under the street to run utilities, it’s not going to be cheap,” he said.

The Beaver Avenue property is $200,000 less and closer to the services shelter guests need.

Fete asked what happens to those who don't pass background checks and asked if the police department is notified. Police Chief Michael Goodwin said they were not notified, but O’Farrell said the shelter will provide the names of those individuals.

“Nobody here thinks what you folks do is not worthwhile," Fete said. "Nobody here has a problem with your residents. My concern is for the people that get turned away and where they end up."

"Nobody in the safety services is concerned about your shelter or your individuals that reside there," Fire Capt. Paul Rossi said. "It’s the people that get turned away that we end up dealing with."

Councilman Kelly Ricklic said he was in favor of approving the FOTH request. "I don't want to turn my back on anybody anymore. It's Christmastime," he said. "I sure hope somebody will open up their damn heart and support you instead of finding a way to tell you there's no place in this town for you."

Council President Don Kemp assigned the matter to the zoning and annexation committee for consideration. A meeting will be scheduled and publicized.

The entirety of the comments can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel, along with the rest of the council meeting.