RACINE — Following complaints, the Hospitality Center, which has served as a meal site and temporary homeless shelter, is being called before the city for apparently violating its operating permit.
Now it will be up to the City Plan Commission to decide if the center’s permit should be amended to allow it to continue to operate as is, or cut back. The meeting, which will likely be held on Wednesday, July 29, also could be the deciding factor on whether the center opens again as an overnight shelter come winter.
The Hospitality Center, located Downtown at 614 Main St., opened in May 2011 as a place to provide shelter during the day for anyone in need and, according to its operating permit, it was only intended to be open three days a week and provide light snacks and beverages.
But over the past few years it has expanded the number of days open, evolved into a site where full meals are provided and even operated as an overnight shelter throughout the winter.
Rev. Kevin Stewart, the center’s director, said the center expanded to meet the community’s needs.
Stewart said: “In a city with the state’s highest unemployment rate, we have a lot of hungry people … We have met a need of feeding the hungry, responding to what we believe by God we are called to do.”
After receiving a letter from the city stating the Hospitality Center was in “noncompliance” of its permit, Stewart said he has submitted an amended permit to stay open additional days and serve full meals.
He said he also is asking for extended hours to open as a “warming and cooling” site in extreme heat and cold.
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Over the past six months, the Hospitality Center has been at the center of a debate about how to best serve the city’s homeless population. The center had threatened to close its overnight shelter in the middle of winter, but after support from the community poured in, the center stayed open throughout the winter.
The center’s conditional use permit explicitly states it is not to function as a homeless shelter, but it’s been no secret that the Hospitality Center has opened its doors at night the last couple winters.
Mayor John Dickert said the Hospitality Center was ordered to come in after the city received complaints. He said he did not have information about who made those complaints.
“The complaints came in and we are looking for some resolution,” Dickert said. “They have to follow the rules … all of those rules are put in place for one reason only: The protection of our people.”
Dickert also said that the city needs to know what the Hospitality Center’s plans are come fall and if it plans to open as an overnight shelter.
Homelessness has been a topic of discussion among officials in recent months and Dickert said there are other shelter options available. “We have found all but a few who were being taken care of,” he said.
Stewart has said repeatedly that in its current capacity, “it is beyond the Hospitality Center to operate as an overnight shelter.”
But when asked what he would do if someone came to his door, needing a place to stay, he has left it open that he would again open the overnight shelter.