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Plans to help homeless to be discussed at meeting

Trevier Gonzalez Photo Interviews with the homeless are a planned part of a presentation Monday to city officials as the Homeless Coalition continues its discussions about creating a facility or site to house those in need. Pictured, above, is “The Wash,” a name given by the homeless to where they live.

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The city wants to take a different tack on the question of how to help the homeless in Roswell, just a few days before those living near the Berrendo River must move or face eviction.

Previously, the city suggested possible locations for a homeless site, but at a public meeting Monday before city elected officials the focus will be a presentation by the Roswell Homeless Coalition on how it would operate and support a homeless camp or facility.

“People are asking, how would a facility be run, what would it look like, how would it operate,” said City Engineer and Planning Director Louis Najar. “They are saying, we know we need to do something, but let’s get down to the nuts-and-bolts of what this would be.”

Homeless Coalition President Joel Wood, pastor of Waymaker Church, said the nonprofit group will give an overview of how the coalition might run a facility and provide information about what options are under consideration.

The coalition consists of 10 members of a board of directors and about 30 to 40 affiliated groups and individuals who have indicated their willingness to help, Wood said.

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“If people are looking for a first-person perspective from us, to learn about our mission and to see what it is we are trying to accomplish, they definitely should come,” said Wood.

He said he knows that the city is expecting information about operating budgets and financial resources. But, prior to a site being identified, he said, a great deal of specifics might not be available.

Najar said that city Planning Manager Bill Morris also plans to introduce a draft of an ordinance that would govern a homeless site specifically.

Wood said he welcomed that development, saying it would help guard against what has occurred previously with sites rejected by a city commission.

In September, the Roswell City Council approved two possible city-owned sites to be used by the Homeless Coalition. But, when two of those sites were taken before the city Planning and Zoning Commission, some citizens and nearby property owners voiced opposition, and commission members rejected granting the variances to allow homeless sites. One of the commissioners said that the variances being sought were not intended to be used for that purpose. Then the City Council voted to table discussions about a third possible site.

“This way, we won’t have to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and keep getting voted down,” Wood said. “Then we can know from the start what an appropriate site would be.”

A point-in-time survey that the Homeless Coalition conducted in early 2017 found that there were 182 people in Roswell who defined themselves as homeless, with about 70 of those saying they were without any shelter. Fifty-nine described themselves as chronically homeless.

A sizable group live in what is called “The Wash” in the riverbed of the Berrendo River behind the Roswell Mall and other retail stores in the north part of the city. The city officially notified people staying there about 30 days ago that they had to move by Nov. 17 or else they would be forcibly removed from the area.

Wood said that part of the upcoming meeting will include information that the coalition has gathered from interviews with the homeless about their willingness to live at a homeless site if one is provided.

The city also has indicated in its meeting notice that it would welcome hearing from property owners who might be willing to donate land or facilities.

The meeting of the Roswell City Council Infrastructure Committee will occur at 3 p.m. Monday at the Roswell Convention and Civic Center, 912 N. Main St.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7110, ext. 310.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.