Janesville46.4°

Neighbors spar over proposed shelter

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 13, 2010
— Mike Tearman says it can be done.

His neighbors have mixed feelings.


On Thursday, Mike Tearman presented his plan for a homeless shelter at 407 W. Van Buren St. in the historic Fourth Ward.


About 50 people, including city council members, city staff, neighbors, and men from the drop-in shelter, attended the meeting.


The proposed shelter started as a day-time drop-in shelter for homeless men who stayed overnight at God is Faithful Temporary Shelter (GIFTS), which operates for men during the winter. Tearman tried to transform the drop-in shelter into an overnight shelter but was shut down by the city because of code violations.


GIFTS has said that it is not affiliated with the drop-in shelter.


Tearman wants to create an all-season shelter that "can really be a home."


While the shelter would operate on Christian principals, Tearman said, "We are not a church. We don't intend to be a church."


Under his plan, the upper story of the building would have space for 15 or more beds. Each small area would have a bed and a spot for personal items and clothing.


The lower level would have bathrooms, showers and a programming area.


But neighbors expressed concerns about an increase in incidents such as mail being torn open, gas being stolen from vehicles and women being harassed.


Brudette Erickson, who described himself as spokesman for the "Old Fourth Ward Committee," said he and many of his neighbors had seen an increase in such incidents


One of the men sitting in the audience said "bull****" while Erickson was speaking.


Another neighbor pointed out that many problems weren't new.


"I've lived here for seven years, and we've always had these problems," said Justin Vegge. "The shelter hasn't been here for seven years."


Others said they were concerned about Tearman's approach.


"You might have been better served if you had this meeting beforehand," said Gina Smith.


Another resident questioned what Tearman had told him about the ownership the shelter building.


"Things got so easily misconstrued," Tearman said.


Some of the items Tearman mentioned in passing Thursday night might fall into that category.


Tearman said, for example, that the shelter has a Christian 12-step program taught by Keith Overturf that is sponsored by the New Life Assembly of God.


The Rev. Michael Jackson, senior pastor of New Life Assembly of God, said New Life is not sponsoring the class.


Tearman also said that the men had been allowed to use the showers at First Presbyterian Church and suggested that the shelter might continue to work with the church.


The Rev. Bruce Jones of First Presbyterian said the church did have a "temporary agreement but a formal request was not approved" for continued use.


On a much more significant issue, Councilman Bill Truman was concerned about the exact nature of the background checks Tearman was running on potential residents. Tearman did not directly address Truman's question.


In an interview with WCLO radio before the meeting, Tearman said that about "90 percent of the men are from the GIFTS program so we know they've been screened."


He added that he had spoken to the Janesville Police Department about doing screening similar to the GIFTS program and the department was open to the idea.



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