Janesville shelter to halt overnight care

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010
— Despite a flurry of work Monday at The Shelter Christian Fellowship and Outreach Center, it appeared the new shelter in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood would be forced to close its overnight operation today.

Until the shelter can meet building codes and zoning ordinances, it will be allowed to offer only daytime activities as a drop-in center, according to a notice to the shelter from Gale Price, manager of building and development services for the city.

The city Friday ordered the overnight shelter for homeless men to close by 5 p.m. today. City officials had learned the building at 407 W. Van Buren St. didn’t meet building codes and that director Mike Tearman didn’t get a required conditional-use permit when he turned the church and drop-in center into an overnight shelter May 2.

“We’ll still run the facility from 7 a.m. to 11 at night, then shut down until we can get all our permits and comply to all regulations, going through whatever process to uphold the integrity of the shelter,’’ Tearman said.

Tearman first learned of the violations Friday afternoon from Price. Tearman said he now knows what needs to be done. He said that includes making the building handicap accessible, hardwiring carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors and showing the sleeping areas have enough windows.

Tearman had an electrician on site Monday and was waiting for a contractor.

But Price said Tearman again was taking action without required permits.

“I don’t have an electrical permit for the building. He’s required by law to have plans submitted to do any work on the building and facilitate this proposed use. It’s counterproductive,’’ he said.

Neighbors on June 1 delivered to the city, the Gazette and Janesville police a list of concerns outlining an increase in vandalism and other criminal activity in the area since the shelter opened.

Tearman on Monday said he was hopeful the city would issue him a temporary occupancy permit to remain open.

But Price said that probably wouldn’t happen because he also learned Monday from city fire officials that the shelter probably will need a fire sprinkler system, too.

“I’ll have to make him aware of that, and that’s a big deal,’’ Price said.

Fate of the residents

Shelter residents said they were worried Monday about what they would do and where they would go if the shelter closes its overnight operation Tuesday.

Ellwood Fiser, 50, was living under the Park Avenue Bridge in Beloit before he turned to the God is Faithful Temporary Shelter, which is a winter shelter for men in Janesville, and now to Tearman’s overnight shelter.

“Hopefully, Mike can help me. I don’t want to leave. This is home,’’ he said.

Fiser, who worked in construction and roofing until he was badly injured in 2002, said the shelter has “straightened me up and makes me a better person.’’

He said he has not had any alcohol since arriving at the shelter and has no desire to.

“When you hang around with the right people, then your life goes better,’’ said Fiser, who handles maintenance duties at the mission center.

Leonard Cherrier, 56, said he’s alive today because of Tearman and the shelter.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I’d be dead,’’ he said before rattling off a long list of medical conditions.

Cherrier said the shelter gives him a place to take medication regularly and to rest.

If the shelter closes, Cherrier said he would have no choice but to “bounce from friend to friend’’ and most likely end up sleeping in a friend’s garage.

“After a while, you feel you’re a burden,” he said.

“This isn’t a choice, this is an opportunity,” Cherrier said of living at the shelter.

“People don’t want to be a burden to society. I would rather pay my way, but I’ve been unemployed for over three years.’’

The city has contacted the Homeless Intervention Task Force to provide housing assistance and additional resources to qualifying men staying at the shelter.

“But I’m going to take care of a lot of the men myself,” Tearman said.

Tearman said he has been contacted by a person who lives in the Old Fourth Ward and would be willing to provide housing for several men.

Meanwhile, Tearman said changes that need to be made at The Shelter sounded reasonable and fair Friday.

“I’m not a code violator nor a rebel against city ordinances or zoning. I just want to help men. Gale wants to work with me, and I want to work with him,’’ he said.

Price said the city would work within the boundaries of the codes.

“That’s all we can do,’’ he said.

Last updated: 9:48 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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