Advocates Urge New Direction for Homeless Shelter Plan



Rendering of planned facility - FULL BUILD
  • Full Build
  • Rendering of planned facility

Homeless advocates urged local leaders to re-think an $8 million plan for a new shelter, and to use the money, instead, for permanent housing, warning that the shelter could become a “human zoo.”

Last week, members of the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission detailed plans for the relocation and expansion of the Hospitality Hub, an organization that assists homeless men and women, providing customized care, resources, and/or referrals in partnership with other organizations.

  • Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
Private funding totaling $5 million has already been secured for the facility. Local government leaders pledged $2.4 million over two years.

The new facility will be for women and is planned for the former city of Memphis Public Service Inspection Station on Washington. The shelter will house 32 women, who  can spend four to nine days and, in some cases, up to 30 days. The goal of the new effort, officials said, is to eliminate street-level homelessness within 30 months.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center (MSPJC) said Tuesday that the plan “is not what it seems” and that “while well-intentioned, is missing the mark.”

  • Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
  • Brad Watkins
“With a proposed price tag of over $5 million in private construction and renovation costs, and up to $2.4 million in city and county funding, we could provide real housing, not just temporary shelter, for as many as 150 households by expanding funding for existing city and county programs, from the city’s contribution alone,” Brad Watkins, MSPJC’s executive director, said in a statement. “It’s not always how much you spend, it’s what you spend it on.”

Watkins said the money would be better spent in the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program, Rapid Rehousing, deposit and utility assistance, and Permanent Supportive Housing programs.

Thousands are now on a waiting list for housing through the Memphis Housing authority, Watkins said. Spending ”massive resources on a shelter for 32 individuals when there is likely no housing to place these people in afterwards, places a multi-million dollar cart in front of the proverbial horse.”
“In October of 2017, over 15,000 qualified local applicants for housing assistance were placed into a lottery for housing,” Watkins said. “The ‘winners’ didn’t get housing, they were simply added to the waiting list. This shows just how big of a gap there is when it comes to housing security.”

Further, MSPJC voiced concerns on the shelter’s proposed car wash, dog park, art garden, food trucks and outdoor rest “tubes.” Officials wondered who would work at the carwash and it they’d paid a living wage — “We doubt it.” Also, they asked “who are these amenities really for?”
Layout of planned facility - FULL BUILD
  • Full Build
  • Layout of planned facility
”The risk is that (the shelter) becomes a ’human zoo,’ turning people experiencing homelessness a theme park spectacle while those with homes walk their dogs and enjoy food trucks,” reads a statement. “The cost is millions of dollars in overhead and salaries that won’t provide homes or move us closer to ending homelessness. The only thing this proposed shelter will do is absolve the guilt of those with homes who can now feel like progress is being made, even though it isn’t.”

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