House of Refuge addresses issues

Board members for the Bay City House of Refuge homeless shelter answered questions during a Q & A session held on Monday, July 1 at Power Church. The gathering was held after their regularly scheduled monthly board of directors meeting and focused on the recent claims that shelter consumers, among other things, were loitering excessively at Liberty Park.  (Jonnie Montalbo photo)

House of Refuge addresses issues

HoR has ‘town hall’ style meeting

 

After a series of recent Facebook posts citing safety concerns, the local Bay City House of Refuge homeless shelter once again has been the focus of attention, prompting the organization’s board of directors to hold a “town hall” style forum immediately after its regularly scheduled board of directors meeting Monday night.

Franc Paiz, president of the board, opened the gathering by making a direct statement regarding the allegations that consumers utilizing the facilities at the HoR were loitering incessantly at local parks downtown, as well as taking part in other activities seen as “unacceptable or objectionable ” by some individuals who work or live nearby.

When a member of the audience asked what three of the biggest challenges the shelter faced currently, Paiz stated “At this point it’s our budget, but definitely the lack of knowledge within the community and communication.”

Paiz stated his willingness to communicate with local businesses concerned with the issue. 

“I did reach out in person to the business owner who originally made the Facebook statements,” said Paiz.

According to Paiz previous mayor, Mark Bricker made him aware of the situation after he had been contacted directly from the business owner. 

Paiz then visited the business owner and extended his phone number and offered any assistance in the matter if indeed consumers from the HoR were involved in any issue at Liberty Park. 

“We can’t just assume just because someone is homeless that they are going to hurt you or that they are going to do something wrong,” said Roslyn White, board member. “I think if you would just take time to sit down with these people you would find out quickly that they are ordinary people, that life  has happened to and that need a hand. 

“I think If we can get out there and educate the community better, just like tonight, invite the community to come and ask questions,” White said. “Maybe we need to have more open forums, because it’s one thing to be on the outside looking in. Anybody can judge when they are standing on the outside. It’s different when you come on in the inside and you see what’s really going on.”

“So I think for us, as House of Refuge board members we need to sit down and say, okay what do we need to do to educate and even then we are still going to have those few people who just don’t want them here, but like I said from the beginning, if you shut it down, where would they go? They are still not going anywhere,” said White. 

Audience members included newly-elected Mayor Robert Nelson who shared his personal experiences with near homelessness years ago, regarding the experience as “eye opening.”

Bay City Council Member Becca Sitz also shared her viewpoint in regard to the business owners who hesitate to openly oppose the shelter in fear of losing business.

“It’s highly unpopular to say I’m here because I don’t like homeless people,” Sitz said. “It’s just not going to happen. So, while they would complain to me, I am not the one bringing this up honestly. While they would complain to me, they wouldn’t say it out loud, it’s that fear of losing their business, fear of losing their livelihood.” 

The House of Refuge board of directors has scheduled the next “town hall” style gathering open to the public immediately after their Sept. 9 board of directors meeting at the Power Church. 

“We definitely want to encourage the community to attend our next meeting and hope that whatever issues they may have with the shelter can be voiced and discussed in a productive manner,” said Paiz. “I also encourage anyone who is interested in knowing more about the shelter to visit us anytime to see exactly how it functions and what it looks like. The shelter is located at 2001 Fifth Street. Our ultimate goal is to provide adequate shelter to those in need and we have no ulterior motives. The people that stay in our shelter are at the end of the day, human just like you and me that deserve to have a safe, clean place to sleep, regardless of why or how they got there.”

For more information about Bay City House of Refuge homeless shelter call the Power Church office at 979-245-2185. 

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