As Action Inc. prepares for the city's verdict on a proposal to add beds to its shelter on Main Street, the nonprofit organization has come up with a few ways to meet neighborhood concerns.
The shelter faces a hearing Thursday in front of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals for permission to increase the number of beds allowed at the shelter from 26 to 34, year-round.
When Action representatives went before the board last week, neighbors asked the nonprofit to find a way to decrease police and ambulance calls to the shelter, find a better way for people to get into the building, rather than lining up on Main Street in the afternoon, and keep the neighborhood grounds clear of bottles and trash.
Timothy Riley, Action's executive director, said Tuesday that the non-profit is looking to raise the number of saved beds in the shelter, and cut down and eventually eliminate the need for a line. The shelter's first-come, first-serve basis for getting a bed causes the 4 p.m. line-up, as people get there as early as possible to get a place to stay for the night.
The one exception to that are chronic shelter guests that have what Riley called "saved" beds. A shelter guest has a saved bed, he said, when he or she is enrolled in substance abuse counseling and, or actively looking for work and a place to live.
By increasing the numbers of "saved beds," Riley said, the shelter can cut down on the line and get guests moving out of it.
"It eliminates the line, but is helpful for the homeless," he said.
Those saved beds will be added slowly, Riley said, but he said he'd also like to see all but three or four of the beds reserved for people working to get themselves out of the shelter. That, he said, would also deal with much of the substance abuse concerns.
George Allen, who owns the Gloucester Service Center next door to the shelter, said Action needs to keep better control of its guests.
The shelter, he said, needs to find a way to keep the local homeless population from loitering in the corners of shops on the lower part of Main Street.
While Action hasn't yet finalized its plan to present at today's continued Zoning Board of Appeals meeting — set for 5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall — Riley said the agency will also consider setting up a formal way to meet with neighbors about their concerns, rather than through informal conversations. He said Action has been working with the police and rescue squads to reduce the number of calls to the shelter as well.
The shelter sees a lot of homeless, he said, and has only a handful of hard cases that cause trouble, he said. Not all of the guests, he said, can be painted with the same brush.
"We are making an effort to work with these folks," he said.
Ralph Johnson, Action's shelter director, said the shelter's already addressing the litter issues, but it's largest concern is getting rid of the line. Whether the shelter adds saved beds, or uses a lottery to place people in beds, the line needs to form inside the building.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.
If you go
What: Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.
Why: Action Inc.'s request to add eight beds.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday.
Where: City Hall.