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Editorial: City, diocese get time to work on housing homeless

8:00 PM, Feb. 15, 2013  |  Comments
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Sometimes no decision is a good decision.

The St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter issue reached a crescendo this past week as both Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt and Deacon Timothy Reilly of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay publicly expressed their frustration with each other on the maximum occupancy.

Schmitt on Monday called Reilly "disrespectful and dishonest," while Reilly expressed surprise at the city's objections. In December, the deacon said the mayor had lost "leadership credibility" in his handling of the overflow at the shelter.

So on Monday, the Green Bay Plan Commission recommended a 60-day postponement.

Maybe the 60-day delay is a good thing, because given the comments by Schmitt and Reilly, they need a timeout.

In the meantime, though, the shelter will continue to house homeless people, and the city of Green Bay will not cite it if it exceeds the occupancy limit.

The issue has come to a head this winter as the need for shelter has increased, and St. John's has housed more people than allowed in its conditional use permit. The city issued a citation to the shelter but then said it was in negotiations to work out a solution.

In December we encouraged the city to re-examine a daytime drop-in center for the homeless and to allow the shelter to house overflow until an agreement on the conditional use permit could be reached.

The conditional-use permit caps occupancy at 64 people, but the shelter's operational plan allows for using a classroom for overflow sleeping space if it receives 65 guests by 9 p.m. But the operational plan is not part of the permit, and therein lies some of the disagreement.

Meanwhile, there are those who have hit hard times and who need a place to go, and their numbers are growing. During a homeless count earlier this month, the Brown County Homeless & Housing Coalition found 481 homeless people - 10 percent more than last winter.

"I'm sure there are more," homeless coalition member Meika Burnikel told Press-Gazette Media. "Brown County is definitely seeing more homelessness than ever before."

The city's homeless population needs somewhere to go at night, and in a northern state during the coldest months of the year, any organization or person would be hard-pressed to turn anyone away, especially a shelter run by a diocese.

Both sides have sought out solutions. During the Christmas break, some of the homeless were housed on the St. Norbert College campus in De Pere. A facility to house homeless military veterans has been proposed next to the old mental health center. And the mayor talked last week with the state secretary of Veterans Affairs about help with homeless vets.

In the meantime, Schmitt and Reilly should refrain from the public rhetoric that hampers, not helps, negotiations

In 60 days, it will be mid-April and winter will be over. The city and the diocese have an opportunity to work on this problem and come to a solution before next fall. Hopefully, they'll do better than Congress and not wait until the last minute.

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