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City Negotiating New Location For Homeless Shelter

Jeffrey B. Cohen

November 18, 2009

The city is negotiating to open a "no freeze" shelter for the homeless in an annex of Center Church in the heart of downtown, but the idea has raised concerns from nearby residents and business owners.

The Salvation Army told the city in late September that it would no longer run its shelter on Washington Street, which had operated for nine years.

Since then, the city has been trying to find another suitable location. Officials say the church at Lewis and Gold streets near Bushnell Park appears to be the best solution on short notice. The shelter typically opens on Dec. 1 and stays open every night through the winter.

Mike Zaleski, head of the downtown business improvement district, said his members fear the effect that such a shelter, which serves people who would otherwise spend the winter outdoors, would have on their businesses.

"Downtown property owners recognize the tremendous need that the city has with its homeless population," Zaleski said.

He said his members were interested in helping the city find an alternative, but that "a shelter like this one in the Hartford central business district is not conducive to economic development and economic prosperity in the downtown."

The city's chief operating officer, David Panagore, said the city is doing its best to find a suitable location, but has to act soon.

"What we're trying to avoid is the really bad result that everyone would share a concern about, which is somebody dying," Panagore said.

Panagore said Center Church has said that it's willing to house the operation, but negotiations are continuing. While some people opposed to the shelter have said they're afraid there may be sex offenders among the homeless, Panagore noted that the Salvation Army's shelter had no reported incidents involving sex offenders in its nine years of operation.

"These are not easy issues," Panagore said, "and everybody's got a strong perspective on it."

On Monday, concerned downtown residents brought the issue to the attention of the mayor and the city council in a series of e-mails. In one, Richard Wareing, who was chairman of the city's recent charter revision commission, told city leaders that placing the shelter at the location was a bad idea.

Putting the shelter "across the street from two apartment buildings, three blocks from a magnet high school, and right in the middle of the most significant business and entertainment districts in the city, speaks volumes about the city's disregard for the welfare of its voters, taxpayers, visitors, and children," Wareing said in an e-mail.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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