Middletown council to vote Friday on emergency warming center proposal

Middletown City Council members will vote Friday afternoon during a special meeting whether to allow a warming center for homeless to operate for three months in this vacant building, 1009 Grove St. Members discussed the legislation Tuesday night, then delayed a vote to give residents time to comment. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Middletown City Council members will vote Friday afternoon during a special meeting whether to allow a warming center for homeless to operate for three months in this vacant building, 1009 Grove St. Members discussed the legislation Tuesday night, then delayed a vote to give residents time to comment. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Minutes before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the city switched from possibly opening a warming center for the homeless behind Central Connections senior center to a location at 1009 Grove St. near Hope House, a homeless shelter.

City Manager Jim Palenick said the cost of running the warming center for three months behind Central Connections was estimated at $56,772 and the Grove Street location was about $45,360.

He said both sites would require a trained off-duty firefighter to be on site during occupancy because the buildings don’t have fire suppression units that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost of the firefighter was about $17,700, according to Palenick.

The $63,000, the total cost of the Grove location, can be fully covered by the city’s special American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation of approximately $1.3 million that must be used to house the homeless or those in imminent threat of being homeless, Palenick said.

Besides being cheaper, the Grove Street location will be less disruptive to neighbors, he said. The contract would run through April 30, he said. If the center is open for three months, the cost would be about $700 per day.

After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, council delayed a vote on the legislation until a special meeting set for 1 p.m. Friday in Council Chambers. Council members said they wanted residents to have an opportunity to give feedback since the emergency legislation was changed late in the day.

Mayor Nicole Condrey called the issue “a very contested topic.”

The legislation dealing with the homeless warming center will be the only issue discussed Friday, according to city documents.

Erica Norton, chief operating officer for The Mindful Healing Center, which provides substance abuse and mental health counseling on First Avenue, will operate the warming center on Grove Street. She hopes to eventually build transitional housing in the building that used to belong to Abilities First.

Norton originally proposal for a warming center was $150,000 for three months because she thought it would be open 24 hours a day and require more staff. But city officials balked at that price, she said. Then she lowered the price once she realized it would be open about 12 hours a day.

The warming center is needed, Palenick said, because Serving Homeless Alternate Housing Of Middletown (SHALOM), a faith-based organization that housed the homeless for 18 years at no cost to the city, closed for the second year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Middletown Police Chief David Birk said the warming center, open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., would give police officers an opportunity to transport someone living on the street during extreme cold temperatures. He called the building on Grove Street “a great location” because it’s near Hope House.

The homeless will be picked up every night and dropped off every morning at the police station in the lower level of the City Building, Birk said.

Council member Monica Nenni said one resident expressed concerns that shelters draw homeless from other communities to the city. Birk said the goal is to make the warming center “for our homeless here in Middletown.”

First-year council member Rodney Muterspaw, who served on the police department for 30 years, five as chief, said he has seen the homeless sleeping in city parks at 3 a.m. when it was 20 degrees. He said some homeless refuse assistance while others “beg for help,” he said.

Without a safe place to take the homeless, Muterspaw said “we lose humanity as people. People need a place to go.”

Last year, the city “struggled” with homeless individuals sleeping in the city’s police department lobby and in other areas in and around the City Building, according to the city.

Palenick said a committee is working on longer-term solutions for the homeless, but the city is worried about keeping these individuals adequately sheltered from freezing conditions in the short-term.

When dealing with the homeless issue, there are “very few easy answers,” he said.

ExploreDowntown Middletown security contract not renewed; council didn’t have time to vote before deadline

Last summer, the city gave Downtown Middletown Inc. a $49,724 grant to provide six months of unarmed security downtown as a pilot program.

Allied Universal Security Services was hired by DMI to provide security downtown in response to numerous businesses complaining about loitering, panhandling and homeless issues impacting their businesses.

DMI Executive Director Jeff Payne made a presentation to council asking for an extension of the contract, but council wasn’t given enough time to vote before the 30-day cancellation clause expired on Nov. 23, seven days after the council meeting.


HOW TO CONTACT MIDDLETOWN CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS

Here is the link to email all five council members: Email All Council Members

Here are the email addresses of the individual members: nicolec@cityofmiddletown.org; monican@cityofmiddletown.org; talm@cityofmiddletown.org; rodneym@cityofmiddletown.org; zachf@cityofmiddletown.org

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