The Roswell City Council approved resolutions Thursday night that lay the groundwork for a temporary homeless site in the downtown area to be run by a nonprofit group, and intended to provide a secure location for the city’s homeless and help provide them with a path to reimmersion into society.
One resolution, which passed 8-0, directs the city manager to enter into negotiations with the Roswell Homeless Coalition for the location and operational procedures of a temporary transitional housing site, to be operated by the homeless coalition for up to 30 months.
Another resolution, which passed 8-0, adopts a primary and secondary site for the homeless location, both on city property.
An amendment to that ordinance offered by City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best, which was adopted by a 7-1 vote, allows city staff to propose alternative sites if the first two locations prove unviable.
Advocates for the homeless said the primary site approved by the City Council near 12th Street and North Virginia Avenue, next to the Roswell Community Little Theatre, is an ideal location. The site, currently an office for the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, is near the Harvest Ministries food bank, the city’s bus line, and already has water and sewer services, a fence, and a structure for a warming center, said advocates for the homeless.
The secondary site approved last week by the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Temporary Transitional Housing, and approved by the full City Council Thursday night, is east of Grand Avenue, north and west of the railroad tracks.
Mayor Dennis Kintigh said the City Council would have to give its final approval of an agreement between the city and Roswell Homeless Coalition. The city’s Planning & Zoning Commission would also have to approve a variance allowing the tent city.
Tents for the homeless would be located west of the Parks & Recreation Department office on 12th Street, and therefore would be largely obscured from Virginia Avenue, said homeless coalition representatives.
Peggie Roberson said she’s a Christian woman, and she allows homeless to live in her backyard.
“I’ve heard lately that homeless want to be homeless. That is not true,” Roberson told the City Council. “Not all people that are homeless want to be homeless. The homeless need to feel safe.”
Joel Wood, president of the homeless coalition, said the goal is to help the homeless get back into society.
“I want you to please remove the picture in your mind of a trash heap, because that is not the way it’s going to be,” said Wood, adding residents of the homeless camp would be prohibited from panhandling within a mile of the camp.
“Homeless are humans, they’re just humans without homes,” said Jeneva Martinez of the homeless coalition, adding there were 145 known homeless persons in Roswell in January.
Laura Weathers of the homeless coalition and United Way of Chaves County said an organized camp for the homeless is needed in Roswell to provide them social services.
“We have people that are available to help on all of this, we just need a place,” Weathers said.
Brandon Hebert said he’s seen the homeless living in portable toilets.
“There’s not much more of a heartbreaking scene than somebody who has nowhere else to go other than a portable toilet,” Hebert said.
Trey Nesselrodt said a homeless camp could attract even more homeless to the city.
“Certainly this could be somewhere else other than downtown,” Nesselrodt said. “Think wisely about where we put this would be my concern.”
City Councilor Steve Henderson said the majority of his constituents are against a homeless camp. However, Henderson said the homeless problem in Roswell has gone on too long.
City Councilor Barry Foster said regardless from where they came, the city’s homeless are a concern for local residents.
“Since they’re here, they’re all Roswell citizens,” Foster said.
City Councilor Caleb Grant said a homeless camp could attract more homeless, but he said the homeless have to live somewhere, somewhere better than the Berrendo River bed. About 20 homeless people are currently camping in the river bed, with an estimated other 100 or so homeless people are scattered about town.
“I’m glad we have a good, solid group of people who are ready to address this issue in our community,” Grant said.
City Councilor Juan Oropesa, who cast the sole nay vote on Best’s amendment, said he foresees a lot of issues with a concentrated place for the homeless.
“The other issue is still their safety,” Oropesa said. “I believe some of these individuals have underlying problems that need to be addressed, mental health issues, drug issues, alcohol issues.”
“Our goal is to transition them from homeless back into the community,” Wood said.
“We will do whatever it takes to help these people because we think they are worth it,” said Shaun Wigley.
“They’re human beings,” added Hebert. “They have to go somewhere. And they are somewhere, they’re all over town.”
Grant said any location for a homeless camp would be controversial.
“There is no good location for this facility, as far as residents go,” Grant said. “No one wants it in their neighborhood.”
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