By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – When a petition opposing a temporary COVID-19 homeless shelter was discussed at the June 29 city council meeting, attendees learned a $1 million grant for a permanent shelter was rejected.
Mayor Pro Tempore Robert DeSana said he received a call two weeks ago from Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara, who said he was at a meeting with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans at which grants were being issued, and Evans told Palamara that a $1 million grant was available for a permanent homeless shelter in the city of Wyandotte.
“We didn’t know anything about it,” DeSana said. “Thank God Joe killed that grant, because God forbid their being in there temporarily might have ended up being full time.”
The $1 million grant would have been used to bring a former parochial school building up to code, in part by adding an automatic sprinkler system.
“Kudos to our county commissioner for acting on that on his own,” DeSana said.
After the meeting, when asked to clarify his stance on a homeless shelter in Wyandotte, DeSana cited the 67-signature petition submitted by residents opposing a homeless shelter at St. Vincent Pallotti Parish as a definitive sign that the city’s residents were opposed to such programs within the city limits.
City Engineer Greg Mayhew explained that the temporary homeless shelter was given a six-month certificate of occupancy on March 30 when Wayne Metro Services and ChristNET were seeking emergency shelter for up to 30 homeless people during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayhew, along with police and fire officials, toured the former school building to determine its suitability to serve as a temporary homeless shelter during the governor’s declared state of emergency, and made certain safety recommendations to St. Vincent Pallotti Parish and the Archdiocese of Detroit, which owns the property.
On April 6, a 180-day certificate of occupancy, which will expire Sept. 30, was issued by city officials. In turn, 24-hour security, air conditioning for the building and waste management service were agreed upon.
Fire code guidelines and daily health screenings for those being housed were also implemented.
Mayhew explained to city officials in a June 29 memo that the property is zoned RT – Two Family Residential District – which permits churches, parochial schools, group day care homes and accessory uses, which would include administering to the indigent in times of emergency. Therefore, the zoning ordinance did not require a public hearing or notification of nearby property owners.
The lack of an automatic sprinkler system in the former school building would have to be addressed if the building were to be considered for long-term use as a shelter.
The petitioners stated multiple concerns in the letter submitted to city officials with respect to the homeless shelter.
They feared a decline in surrounding property values and expressed concern about neighborhood safety. The petition asked if the homeless people were Wyandotte residents, whether they had police records, were sex offenders, and whether any had a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
The petition language claimed that since the shelter opened, there has been an increase in public drunkenness, the lingering odor of marijuana, people loitering at nearby businesses and the unwelcome social behaviors and the daily public health screening of the residents.
Police Chief Brian Zalewski said at the June 29 city council meeting that there has been no increase in crime in the neighborhood since the opening of the homeless shelter.
“There has been none,” Zaleski said. “There have been no calls for service to St. Vincent Pallotti Parish.”
In response to questions from City Councilman Chris Calvin, Mayhew said that the people housed at the shelter had the same rights as anyone else in the neighborhood with respect to where they could go, adding that the shelter did have a curfew, and that meals and health screenings were provided on a scheduled basis.
Mayhew said 12 of the original 29 people housed at the shelter had been matched with permanent housing.
When Calvin asked how the shelter came about without the city council knowing about it, Mayhew said that he and the late Mayor Joseph Peterson had discussed the homeless shelter.
Calvin said that, in the future, he wants the council to be made aware of any developments which could impact residents in the manner in which he feels the homeless shelter has.
“Make sure the council is kept informed, especially something like this, where it was going to impact the area around that area,” Calvin said. “I live a block away from that, so I understand the concerns of the people that live around there.”
Councilman Leonard Sabuda said he also wants to be better informed about what is happening in the city. He also expressed concern about the fire safety measures present in the building.
“I feel it is good to do something like this for these people,” Sabuda said. “I mean, this is difficult times. The pandemic is hurting everybody. So, I want to make sure that you guys are fully determined that this building is safe.”
Sabuda said the petition signers were from throughout the city, and were not limited to the immediate neighborhood around St. Vincent Pallotti Parish. He said he has also seen some letters from residents who are in favor of a homeless shelter.
“You know, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” Sabuda said. “These people need help, too, like everybody else. But I want to be able to depend on you guys, and that you know this is going to be a safe operation.”