Richmond emergency shelter proposal concerns neighbors

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Richmond emergency shelter proposal concerns neighbors
All photos by Kathy Chouteau.

A proposal to convert a vacant office building at the corner of Bissell Avenue and 37th Street into an emergency shelter with up to 25 beds has drawn neighbor concerns.

A conditional use permit is being requested from the Richmond Planning Commission to allow for the conversion of the vacant, 5,045 square foot office building at 207 37th St., which recently served as a temporary shelter.

If approved as proposed, the building would transition into a permanent facility with seven rooms – six dorm-style and one private – and with an entertainment room, dining hall, staff offices and rear courtyard area. Residency at the shelter would be limited to six months or less, planning documents state.

“The facility would provide housing and minimal supportive services including therapist, vocational, and occupational and related services,” they further state.

Neighbors are expressing concern about the proposed shelter, noting public safety issues when the property was recently used for this purpose. One neighbor wrote to the city that their teen son was harassed in his backyard while playing soccer. Other neighbors said the building, while acting as a shelter, attracted increases in car thefts, break ins, public drug use, littering and suspicious activity.

“Many complaints and police calls were being made with concerns and nothing much was being done,” one neighbor wrote to the city. “There was suspicious activity all hours of the night.”

Based on neighbor concerns, city staff recommends imposing conditions of approval for the homeless shelter “to address security, rule enforcement, and community engagement.” Staff suggests, in part, reducing the maximum occupancy of the shelter in the proposal from 25 people to 16 and requiring state-based best practices for shelter housing standards.

“Proposed conditions of approval would require graffiti abatement and fencing design to improve compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood and requiring the applicant to consent to inspection with appropriate notice, so that the required standards may be verified for compliance,” city staff recommended.

The shelter proposal is set to go before the Planning Commission at its Thursday, June 6 meeting.