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Green Bay cites homeless shelter for occupancy violations, seeks $500 a day in penalties

Dec. 29, 2012
 
ES_St. John's homeless shelter_5.5.11
St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, shown during a social gathering last year, has drawn 80 or more residents in recent weeks, officials say. / File/Press-Gazette Media
The city citation seeks penalties of up to $500 a day against the church-run homeless shelter. / Scott Cooper Williams/Press-Gazette Media

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Green Bay city officials have cited a downtown homeless shelter for allegedly violating occupancy limits, and are asking a judge to impose penalties of up to $500 a day.

The action follows weeks of scrutiny and debate surrounding the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, which is operated at 411 St. John St. by the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

The citation dated Thursday orders St. John administrators to appear in Green Bay Municipal Court on Jan. 18 to face accusations that the shelter has violated its city operating permit.

Assistant City Attorney Jim Mueller said the shelter could be fined for each day that a violation has occurred starting Dec. 21 — the date cited in the enforcement action. That puts the diocese’s total potential penalty at $3,500, not including court costs.

Mueller, however, also said the city hopes to continue discussions with St. John representatives to resolve the underlying issues.

“The parties are going to try to work this out privately,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Mayor Jim Schmitt, who has publicly criticized St. John administrators on the occupancy issue, issued a statement Friday that the city has always supported homeless services and would continue to do so. He said the occupancy limits at St. John’s facility were based on “safety standards and neighborhood concerns.”

“The city will continue to work with the shelter to find a solution,” he said.

The mayor also said in his statement that the court case would be focused on achieving occupancy compliance rather than securing monetary penalties.

Diocese spokeswoman Justine Lodl said none of the homeless shelter’s residents have been displaced yet by the city’s crackdown. Lodl said the diocese would not comment further, citing a desire to work with the city on homelessness.

Green Bay aldermen last month opted not to act against St. John’s permit, instead calling for a special task force to study the overall issue of homelessness in the community.

Alderman Tim DeWane, who volunteers frequently at the St. John shelter, said he disagreed with issuing a citation against the facility and putting residents in jeopardy rather than moving ahead with the task force, which he said is still being organized.

“I am disappointed that it came to this,” DeWane said of the citation. “We don’t want people to be out in the cold.”

Opened since 2007, the shelter operates seven days a week between November and April, offering homeless people emergency overnight shelter, as well as meals and other assistance.

The City Council in August approved a new three-year permit that called for boosting the shelter’s maximum occupancy from 52 to 64. Plans submitted to the city also include an overflow area to accommodate bigger crowds. City officials dispute that the overflow plan has any bearing on the occupancy limit in the facility’s permit.

Since the start of the shelter’s new season Nov. 1, police and others have complained that its growing population was creating downtown nuisances, including public intoxication, urination and loitering. Some officials blame the shelter for attracting homeless people from outside the Green Bay area.

St. John officials have cited increased need as the reason that the shelter’s population has grown, surpassing 80 people on some nights this season.

The Brown County Homeless & Housing Coalition has reported evidence of increasing homelessness locally over the past couple of years.

“It’s just a growing issue in general,” said Tami Frea, program director for N.E.W. Community Shelter, 301 Mather St.

Frea said her homeless shelter is operating near its capacity of 118 people and likely would be unable to accommodate any St. John residents displaced by the city’s occupancy limits. Most such facilities in the community are full, and many have waiting lists, Frea said.

Asked where St. John residents could go if displaced, she said: “There’s not another shelter — that’s for sure.”

swilliams@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @pgscottwilliams.

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