Shelter permit a no-go

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
— Janesville Plan Commission members on Monday voted unanimously against granting a permit allowing an overnight shelter for homeless men in the Fourth Ward, and they urged the operator to begin building trust in the neighborhood.

Commission members said while homelessness is a problem in Janesville, they didn't believe shelter organizer Mike Tearman provided the needed structure to solve the problem.

Tearman's shelter will remain open at 407 W. Van Buren St. during the day. At night, those needing shelter can go to GIFTS, a homeless shelter operated by churches on a rotating basis.

Earlier this year, Tearman opened his overnight shelter without alerting neighbors or obtaining the necessary permits, so the city shut him down.

He was asking for the needed conditional-use permit Monday.

Some neighbors spoke in favor of the shelter.

Kristie Sheldon, 512 W. Holmes St., said the people at the shelter are doing a wonderful job.

"You (will) find it to be well maintained, and it serves a purpose for these gentlemen," she said. "It's become a team there. I've seen them helping one another and succeeding."

David Somppi, 339 Lincoln St., said he's volunteered at the shelter on several occasions.

"I appreciate the work that's being done," he said, "It provides a real necessary service to he community."

Adam Trotter, 3265 Hampshire Road, doesn't live in the neighborhood, but that he visited the shelter after he recently found Christ. He now volunteers there.

"These guys are homeless, these guys do need a place to stay, they do need a shower," he said. "These guys do need something to eat."

Still, other neighbors said Tearman misrepresented the shelter to them from the beginning. They cited a rash of car thefts and threatening behavior.

"They have shown themselves to be completely incompetent to provide the care needed for homeless men," said Kurt Linck, 118 S. High St.

Amy Ingalls, 206 Lincoln St., said men have approached her and panhandled. She said she found human feces in her yard, and she has seen men sit in their cars and watch her kids play and her work in her yard.

"I've had to start locking myself in my house in fear that someone might come in and break into my house, harm me and my children," she said.

"We have now begun to notice women there," she added, saying her children recently witnessed a drunken fight.

"I should be able to go to work and not fear for the safety of my family," her husband, Kip, said.

Tearman told commission members that he supports the shelter with his own money, with money from a resale store on the city's south side, and with the help of his staff.

Tearman said he would continue in his work regardless of Monday's decision.

"I run the shelter the way I want to run it," he said.

"I just work to care for the people that God sends my way whether you shut that shelter down, whether you throw me in jail, whatever you do to me, burn me at the stake, it doesn't matter. That's what I'm created to do is to care for the discarded, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted, the despised, the rejected.

"I've been doing it for 30 years," he said. "This is the first I've ever had to come before dignified nobles such as yourself and beg to do that."

Commission member Frank Perrotto said he heard many allegations during the public hearing, and he was convinced that at least some of them were true.

"My big concern is, I don't believe you can run that shelter properly," he said. "Your intentions might be there (but) you don't come across as a guy that believes in a lot of structure."

"I do not want to put the Fourth Ward in jeopardy. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Fourth Ward. I believe that it is paying big dividends in that neighborhood."

Commission member Kathy Voskuil said homelessness is a problem, but it should be looked at globally rather than at a hearing for a conditional-use permit.

She said Tearman faces significant hurdles, both in the way he runs the shelter and in building trust with neighbors.

Commission member Nancy Zolidas said Tearman should focus on gaining neighbors' trust.

"Once you build up some trust in the neighborhood, perhaps somewhere down the road, it could be a facility that offers beds," she said.

"Right now, that trust isn't there."

Last updated: 3:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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