City Gospel Mission: Board votes to move forward with Queensgate homeless shelter, leave OTR

'That was the final hurdle'

CINCINNATI – City Gospel Mission's board of directors voted Thursday to move forward with a plan to relocate its homeless shelter from Over-the-Rhine to Queensgate.

U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown announced an agreement June 20 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the senators hoped would allow City Gospel Mission to proceed with the development. The nonprofit had discovered a legal hurdle earlier this year that the senators worked to resolve.

The City Gospel Mission board met to review HUD's language and determine whether board members were comfortable continuing with the project.

"They're comfortable with the wording and agreed to accept the property and move forward," said Tim Curtis, a spokesman for City Gospel Mission.

Deeds for two parcels of land that make up the Queensgate site contained fair housing restrictions. Those restrictions said projects built on the land could not discriminate based on someone's religion or gender. They had been in place since 1981 as part of an urban design plan for the northern part of the neighborhood.

But City Gospel Mission's services are all steeped in the Christian faith, and its new homeless shelter is being designed exclusively for men.

The letter from HUD said: "So long as City Gospel Mission comports its conduct with federal law, there is no need or reason to raise any issues about the deed restrictions with respect to City Gospel Mission."

That was enough to give the nonprofit's board members the reassurance they needed, Curtis said. An official groundbreaking could happen within three weeks, he said. The project is expected to be finished by summer 2015.

"That was the final hurdle in terms of moving forward in earnest," he said. "We're ready."

Several businesses in Queensgate have opposed the City Gospel Mission project, saying the industrial site is not suitable for the shelter and could put the homeless people who use the facility in harm's way because of the trucks that come and go nearby all day and night.

"We are disappointed they've decided to go ahead," said Peter Koenig, a lawyer representing businesses that oppose the plan. "In my view, those letters really don't add anything to the legal situation. As I understand it, City Gospel Mission is asking HUD for permission to discriminate."

The new City Gospel Mission shelter is part of a broader $34 million plan to improve services for homeless residents of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

More New Shelters In The Works

3CDC also is developing a new shelter specifically for homeless women. Construction has begun on that facility, which will be located on Reading Road across the way from the United Way of Greater Cincinnati's offices. The shelter will be operated by the Drop Inn Center, the region's largest emergency homeless shelter.

3CDC also has been working with the Drop Inn Center to move its men's shelter operations from Over-the-Rhine to the old Butternut Bread factory in Queensgate.

Cincinnati City Council recently approved a notwithstanding ordinance that was necessary to move the Drop Inn Center because the Queensgate site wasn't zoned for the development.

Construction is expected to start on that project later this summer, said Anastasia Mileham, vice president of communications for 3CDC.

"These are the last three pieces of the puzzle," said Kevin Finn, president and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, the local nonprofit that crafted the Homeless to Homes plan that called on the community to change the way services are delivered to homeless people. "It's the whole plan coming together."

The overall Homeless to Homes plan didn't call for a dramatic expansion of the number of beds to accommodate homeless people. Rather, it called for a shifting of resources and a more focused approach.

Lighthouse Youth Services, for example, operates the Sheakley Center for Youth, a homeless shelter for young adults. And Talbert House operates a facility on Victory Parkway that serves homeless people with substance abuse problems.

Those two facilities – along with the three new shelters – are designed to provide targeted services that will help people out of homelessness instead of simply warehousing them, Finn said.

"These facilities are going to do a much better job of meeting the needs of people who are homeless," Finn said.

The new shelter for women is expected to open by the summer of 2015, and the new Drop Inn Center for men should be open that fall, Mileham said.

"There will be enough space to serve people in the way we really want to serve them," said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center. "Every square inch of the space has been designed with the residents in mind."

Both the men's and women's shelters will be like "community homeless one-stop shops," Nolan said.

3CDC has been leading much of the fundraising for the three homeless shelters in addition to developing the projects.

Large funding requests still are pending with the Federal Home Loan Bank and some New Markets Tax Credits investors, Mileham said. 3CDC still is trying to raise between $4 million and $5 million for the new men's shelter being built for the Drop Inn Center, she said.

The shelter operators themselves continue to raise money, too.

Nolan said that's a never-ending job for any nonprofit.

City Gospel Mission had put some of its fundraising on hold until the organization got the issues with HUD resolved, said Paul Spence, the organization's vice president of development.

Spence said the organization has about $600,000 left to raise for its portion of the project's construction budget.

"We will finish that up through private donations," he said. "We need to wrap up the capital campaign before we move in. So definitely before the spring."

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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