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Group wants homeless shelter elsewhere

CORVALLIS — The group opposing construction of a proposed 15,000-square-foot shelter for the homeless in downtown Corvallis is moving forward with a petition limiting potential locations while stepping up efforts to find an alternative site.

More than 30 local business owners and downtown residents attended a private meeting Tuesday evening to announce the development of the campaign strategy.

Corvallis Housing First, the organization looking to build a shelter to replace the Men's Cold Weather Shelter, previously postponed plans. The earliest possible groundbreaking is now spring 2017.

In the meantime, a petition committee known as Protecting Corvallis recently received approval to gather petition signatures for a ballot initiative that would limit where homeless shelters can operate.

If approved, the initiative would prevent Corvallis homeless shelters containing at least 10 beds serving chronic drug or alcohol addicts or registered sex offenders from being built within 500 feet from schools, school bus stops and zoned residential areas.

The petition needs 2,430 signatures within two years to be put on the ballot, but Catherine Mater, co-chief petitioner and the host of Tuesday's meeting, said the group could have enough before the year is out.

"The group will be pursuing the petition pretty heavily. But I think there's a consensus in the group that the petition needs to move forward in tandem with a very strong effort to look into the alternative site options available," Mater said. "We're at a point where we have to look at the larger community perspective and make some pretty tough decisions on what the community at large would like to do. If we're really looking at an expanded (shelter) we should do it and do it well and commit to major funding to make it happen."

Ward 2 Councilor Roen Hogg, who attended the meeting Tuesday, said he signed the petition because he represents downtown Corvallis and recognized that both the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Avery Homestead Neighborhood Association have voiced opposition to the shelter at the proposed site.

"The petition will put this issue on the ballot so that there can be a city-wide discussion about how best to assist those who are the most vulnerable in our community and how best to address the numerous documented public safety concerns," Hogg said in an emailed statement to the Gazette-Times. "This is not just a downtown issue. It is a city-wide issue and everyone should have the opportunity to be part of the conversation as well as part of the solution."

Maggie Cooper, owner of Corvallis Physical Therapy, also signed the petition Tuesday night. Cooper said she signed it because of personal stories shared at an earlier Citizens for Protecting Corvallis event — about the fear parents have walking their children to bus stops near the shelter.

"Drunk homeless men who hang out sometimes where there's a school bus stop doesn't seem to be working well for us," Cooper said. "I know we need an emergency shelter and I know some of them are going to be lifelong alcoholics, but if this is the best we can do, we're not trying very hard."

Representatives with Citizens for Protecting Corvallis and Corvallis Housing First have agreed to mediation hearings in the hopes of finding an amicable solution. The groups most recently met Nov. 9.

The two groups made some progress and agreed to meet again within the next few months, said Tom Sherry, Corvallis Housing First public relations representative.

"In the end I think we decided we were going to meet again and that the main topics would be how we could collaborate on moving forward rather than intercepting each other," Sherry said Wednesday. "They made clear what they were prepared to do if we went ahead with the building as planned and that they would not be satisfied if we built any permanent shelter in that location."

Sherry noted that the recent decision to postpone groundbreaking has allowed CHF to re-examine alternative sites and ideas for proposed locations.

"We're completely undecided at this time; we don't know what we're going to propose on that site," he said. "We've said all along that if we found a better location, we'd move to it. We feel like we haven't found it and they haven't either."

One alternative site receiving renewed interest is the Flomatcher Inc. building at 33900 S.E. Roche Lane. Housing First representatives have expressed concern with a lack of transportation available to the site and its distance from other homeless services downtown.

Sherry said he continues to have doubts about the site, but Housing First is open to further talks.

"There are problems with the property but I don't know that they're insurmountable problems," he said.