The Safe Harbor proposal to use a city owned building for a wintertime, emergency shelter got a little tense at last week’s City Commission Study Session. I missed that meeting for a work conference. Last night, I made comments to clarify my thoughts on the issue and the process to date. I’ve rewritten and expanded those comments here.
As I missed last week’s study session, I’d like to make a few comments regarding the Safe Harbor proposal and the related public discourse. I’ve been supportive of the process to proceed in examining the Safe Harbor request. I continue to be supportive of that process.
The commission was asked a question: Were we willing to consider making available a building to assist in providing emergency, winter-time shelter for the Safe Harbor program? They’ve operated a program for 10 years using a variety of churches and for a number of reasons have outgrown that arrangement. Disposing of 517 Wellington was not the motivating factor and has not been deemed a priority. The motivating factor was and remains assisting a seasonal program to keep people off of the streets in the coldest months of the year. Providing a building is a small gesture of support, but manageable considering our limited resources both financially and in regards to City staff capacity.
The process hasn’t been perfect. It seldom is. To Safe Harbor’s credit, it has done everything asked of them in terms of crafting a proposal, including extensive public outreach. The proposal is in the City’s hands now and our public process can be a bit clumsy. It tends to promote polarity with disagreeing sides circling the wagons and then coming out with amplified positions statements and the predictable, provocative headlines that cloud the topic follow. Personally, I’m more interested in the discussion people are having than their position statement.
To that end, I’ve met with as many people as possible across a spectrum of concerns from those who oppose to those who are in full support. I’ve actively listened, providing clarification where possible and not shying away from disagreements. I will continue to do so and encourage anyone who wants to have a real discussion to send me an invite (form below).
From the emails, public comments, and discussions reaching back to February, the top five concerns to the emergency shelter have been:
- Operational: Either calling into question Safe Harbor’s ability or preferring other programs.
- Unfair Concentration: While supporting Safe Harbor, there is disagreement with location and/or concentration.
- Stereotyping: Any comments referencing or categorizing a group of people as “These people…”
- Property Values: Fears with proximity of the shelter to a business, home, or sometimes anywhere in the City.
- Crime and Safety: Fears concerned with a broad spectrum of nuisance, property damage, and more serious activity.
This are just the top five of 17 categories that people’s concerns fall under. These concerns can further be placed under overarching concerns about process, the project itself, the more speculative, and, finally and unfortunately, prejudice and intolerance. I won’t take the time here to discuss each of those issues. I simply wanted to lay out what I’ve been hearing in the public discourse and how I’ve been sorting through it. The bar graph tracking the 406 times one of these concerns has been raised, many of them repeatedly from the same people, is below (I’ve heard from 58 people opposed, 72 people in favor, and eight people interested in outcome, but neutral).
I also want to respond to what some have claimed that the City Commission isn’t “listening to the public.“ Listening isn’t simply falling in line to the loudest, best organized group. It involves reaching out and getting to the reasons behind people’s opinion. I judge those opinions on their merit and weight. How I judge them will be different than how someone else judges them…that is the value of diverse community and diverse commission. This listening process means combining outreach with independent study to help inform my own understanding, approach, and final vote. Much of that doesn’t happen at a public meeting.
I remind everyone that a vote on the proposal has not occurred yet. The process forward is the Special Land Use Permit and ultimately the details related to the use of a City building. The former has it’s own built in timeline (beginning tonight at 7:30) and the latter, I urge the City not to rush. We need to ensure that we continue to be transparent and that we build-in protections and strategy towards improving the conditions of all citizens in the City. I trust this process will lead to something that, although everyone may not agree with, they can come to understand and accept.
I appreciate the commission for their patience in allowing me to speak and just want to add that it is a privilege to serve. I continue to find this fun, even when the decisions are difficult.
I encourage you to reach out. The full city commission can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can send myself a message or an invite through the contact form below.