LUMBERTON — While some local residents are mobilizing to prevent a shelter for the homeless from being built downtown, the City Council last week widened the door for what services that shelter could provide.
In response, one Lumberton businessman is saying he might have to rethink his commitment to downtown Lumberton.
A vote by City Council on Wednesday means that Lumberton Christian Care Center, a nonprofit that provides emergency transitional housing, could provide a bed for up to 45 people for a maximum period of 90 days and include counseling or therapeutic activities in a new building planned for the corner of Second and Walnut streets. The center still needs a conditional-use permit.
The shelter’s current building on First Street operates a soup kitchen that feeds hundreds of people a week, but can only sleep 10 people at a time; guests are allowed to stay no more than three consecutive days.
The Christian Care Center received a $1.1 million grant to build construct the 8,500-square-foot building that would be able to provide accomodations for at least 24 people at one time and house a larger soup kitchen.
Critics of the move to Second Street says the shelter will hurt economic development efforts.
“I know how businesses work and what affects them and this is not good,” said Rob Redfearn, a Lumberton businessman who says he has “invested hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the downtown area, including renovating the building that is now Candy Sue’s. “We put money into downtown based on our assumption that it will be continually improved. This is not an improvement.”
Redfearn, who is turning an empty warehouse into an art studio, said the potential increase in homeless people downtown could harm his business. He posted on Facebook hat he has as many as five projects in the works.
“It will keep potential customers from coming … ,” he said. “It’s a cascade effect.”
Renie Mills, president of Lumberton Christian Care Center, doesn’t see what the big deal is, saying the center is making a short hop.
“The location is just a few feet away from the present location and we feel that in our new location we will be able to serve the people well,” Mills said. “It’s going to be a very nice building.”
Redfearn said he encountered problems when he worked on designing the Exploration Station, a children’s museum on Chestnut Street that would be a few feet from the new shelter. The main branch of the Robeson County Public Library is also nearby.
“It was a struggle,” he said. “The Police Department had a handful just trying to keep these people from loitering.”
Redfearn said the increase in size and location of the shelter will make matters worse.
“Unfortunately, it does attract a contingent of people that really aren’t good for downtown,” he said. “It would be better located somewhere else.”
Mills said she has not received complaints about people who find food or a bed at the Christian Care Center.
“We do not have that problem now and we do not foresee that in our new location we would have a problem,” she said. “We will continue to operate as we are operating now. We don’t anticipate anything being different.”
Maria Parker is a member of Revitalize Downtown Lumberton. She and her husband, Jim, a physician, spoke against the plans at the City Council meeting last week.
“I’m concerned about the proximity to the Exploration Center and the public library,” Parker said. “There are a lot kids around there.”
Facebook has been used in recent days to generate opposition to the proposed location of the shelter, with many people recognizing the need for such a facility, but saying that it needs to be located elsewhere. An often-repeated suggestion is that it should be placed on West Fifth Street, where there are a lot of empty buildings.
The next step in the process is a public hearing on Oct. 23 during which a request by the Christian Care Center for a conditional-use permit will be heard. It had been scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed because it was not properly advertised.
Councilman John Cantey represents Precinct 5, which includes the location where the new shelter would be built.
“As a city councilman, we must ensure the safety and the welfare of all our citizens,” Cantey said. “The shelter has different types of programs to assist our citizens to get back on their feet. You can’t just go there without the recommendation of law enforcement or a background check.”
Councilman Leon Maynor said there will be a screening process.
“I agree with it,” Maynor said. “The bottom line is that the soup kitchen makes every effort to make sure that they’re not admitting felons and sex offenders.”
According to Maynor, the shelter’s proposed location on the edge of downtown could contribute to revitalizing the city’s downtown.
“Where it’s located, it’s the very deep end of the downtown area according to what the map shows,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility. The way it’s set up, it could be an asset to downtown.”
Mills hopes the center will continue its service.
“Lumberton Christian Care has served people in Robeson County in this capacity for 27 years and we look forward to continuing to be able to serve those in need,” she said.
Redfearn said he would be more comfortable if the shelter didn’t expand to such a size.
“I’d rather see several smaller locations being built instead of a big one,” he said. “If they wanted to build another one of the same size on that corner, we wouldn’t have any problem.”