Photo by Nanci Hutson.
Originally Published: October 4, 2016 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Nishan Pinker does not want to be painted as heartless toward the homeless.
Indeed, the five-year café owner said he has reached out to the homeless here and elsewhere and has great respect for those in the non-profit world seeking to help them forge a better life.
WATCH the COURIER for part 2 of this story:
Housing stock and compassionate landlords a key to ending chronic homelessness
What he cannot abide is a “tent city” down the street from his business.
Pinker and another new area business owner, Karen Hunt, attended a Coalition for Compassion and Justice breakfast on Monday morning, Oct. 3, at the Prescott United Methodist Church intended for local landlords as part of a mission to find housing solutions for 30 homeless people in 90 days. The two came to voice their objections about CCJ’s Safe Legal Sleep project, one that allows up to 45 homeless men and women to camp out on the premises of the agency’s Fair Street thrift store between 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The homeless must obtain vouchers at CCJ’s Open Door program and check-in every night.
Safe Legal Sleep started in late July after six months of homeless individuals brainstorming with CCJ staff and other non-profits and faith institutions about how to cope with the lack of emergency shelter and affordable housing options in the community.
As with any new endeavor, the project intended to be a self-governing enterprise has suffered its share of growing pains.
CCJ Executive Director Paul Mitchell is onsite most nights, and there is a former homeless CCJ client who serves as the on-site manager. The “Safe Sleepers” also have their own five-member group that is charged with enforcing the basic rules of the premises: no one abusing alcohol or drugs or engaging in violent behavior on premises.
Mitchell and other homeless advocates admit that some of these folks suffer from mental health and addiction ailments, and the rules at Safe Legal Sleep are about on-site behavior, not what they do or do not do when they depart.
For Pinker and Hunt, and others in the community relying on social media to convey their distaste, this arrangement is not an appropriate solution. “Nobody asked me,” Pinker said of the project launched without consultation of business and residential neighbors.
To date, CCJ has not been found to be in violation of any city codes.
Messages left for Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg on Monday were not immediately returned.
County Supervisor Rowle Simmons admitted he has some concerns, particularly related to safety of county employees who work across the street and arrive in the early morning hours. He said he cannot say whether or not the Board of Supervisors will address the issue as part of any future agenda.
Pinker said he feels he has not been offered the same “compassion” CCJ is extending to this population. Though he admits he has not yet lost any customers, Pinker said this operation has taken its toll on him and his family.
Both Pinker and Hunt said there are homeless individuals residing on those premises who will be unlikely to be allowed into certain housing programs because they are registered sex offenders.
“Our guests found out (about the registered sex offenders) and were appalled,” said an emotional Hunt as she read aloud a letter to the 20 or so non-profit and faith leaders and landlords who attended the breakfast.
She said she has been forced to clean up some of the homeless’ belongings, including discarded liquor bottles and trash. She added that her short- and long-term rental guests have been harassed by some of the clients.
Hunt said there must be another place, possibly in a church facility, where the homeless could have emergency shelter without disrupting area businesses and residential neighborhoods.
Pinker asked about a time frame that would bring an end to this project.
The non-profit leaders said this was never intended to be a solution, but without other housing and shelter options this has at least given the homeless a slice of dignity and safe rest. Mitchell said he is close to identifying an indoor location, but does not yet have the keys and so cannot specify a timeline.
“I’m not sleeping,” Pinker said. “I’m furious. This has to be fixed.”