Harvey County Residents Dispute Over Homeless Shelter

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some homeowners in Newton aren't happy about their soon to be new neighbors and they've asked the city to get involved.

The Harvey County Homeless Shelter bought land in one of the city's older neighborhoods and the people in that neighborhood went to the city commission to see if there was anything the city could do to stop them.

There are about 19 people living in the Harvey County Homeless Shelter, five of them are children.

"We're seeing a lot more families this year and last year so we're really trying to be what they need,” Shelter Office Manager Bethany Mace said.

One thing all kids need is room to play, but the downtown shelter has a parking lot for a backyard and the shelter itself is basically a basement.

"Each family has a room smaller than a hotel room probably and then depending on how many kids, you're stuck inside and there's really no yard outside so there's really not a lot of room for families right now,” Mace said.

The homeless shelter may soon have a new home, complete with a big yard. Mace tells us they bought a piece of land that sits in the middle of a neighborhood. The land is right across the street from Tina Williams.

"Not happy, basically I know we need a shelter and I know we have people in need in the town and in the county but a residential neighborhood in my opinion is not the place for it,” Williams said.

Williams says she and her neighbors have concerns about the homeless shelter moving in.

"It's a safety issue, you know. Increased criminality is also another issue. Just the loitering, where are they going to go during the day?" Williams said.

The neighbors voiced their complaints to the city. Newton's mayor tells us they're looking into the problem but says really they have no legal right to step in.

"Bottom line though, it looks like if the zoning is what it needs to be and it is then there's nothing really the city can do as an entity or a governing body to make that change,” Mayor Racquel Thiesen said.

Mayor Thiesen says the two groups will most likely have to work it out themselves. Both sides tell us they've already started talking.

"Build relationship, let them know us and us get to know them,” Mace said.

"I’m hoping to try to find a compromise somewhere in the middle,” Williams said.

Board and staff members from the shelter have met in person with neighbors.

The city's planning committee is looking at other community's who've had similar problems to see if there is any possible action they can take. They will report on why they find at a meeting in August.

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