Dear Mayor Rob Duncan:
As you consider the options for the former fire department building, please review any homeless shelter proposal with the suggested following statements and questions, based on my previous experience of operating a women’s (and their children) shelter. The questions are listed in no particular order:
• If there is a need for a shelter now, what has recently changed?
• Homeless shelters work best with targeted demographic populations such as mothers with children; or all women or all men. But not mixed. Consider state laws or regulations that may regulate such.
• Does the financial plan consider at least 40 beds so that a minimum 75 percent occupancy will result in sufficient county reimbursements to pay the bills? Are the county commissioners and Job & Family Services willing and able to afford this ongoing expense?
• Will there be 24/7 awake staff for 24/7 intake, supervision, security?
• What evidence is there that there will be 36 to 40 homeless persons of one demographic, who are in need and be willing to stay no longer than the maximum stay. 30 to 60 days?
• What upfront capital and setup costs will be needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy? i.e., handicap access, privacy, common space, laundry, meals.
• Governmental reimbursement fees tend to not fully fund a successful shelter. Is the shelter operator capable of raising the upfront costs; 25 percent of the operating costs; and 25 to 50 percent of future building improvements?
• What will be the measurement of success and does the staffing pattern reflect that?
These are just some of the scores of questions funders and regulators will ask. City and county residents should expect clear and definitive answers.
In Norwalk, the Community Action Center operates an effective family shelter; Catholic Charities/Miriam House operates an effective women’s shelter. The Norwalk Ministerium readily responds to one-night needs. Multiple churches and charities prioritize homelessness and prevention of such. These organizations and The Salvation Army surely could respond if and when there are new needs.
Sad to say, in other communities I have served, I have heard others propose opening a shelter to meet various needs. The presenters had mission statements, goals, and objectives. Yet the shelters never opened because the visionary failed to anticipate and answer the tough questions.
Mr. Mayor: an empty firehouse should not be filled with empty answers.