PUEBLO – In the ongoing saga of where to shelter the city’s homeless, everything old is new again. Wednesday, during the monthly meeting of the recently-formed Commission on Homelessness, the Chairman of the Pueblo Rescue Mission announced that the Mission will offer its old home, the former Wayside Cross Mission building on 4th Street downtown, as a permanent homeless shelter.
“Because it’s been in that area for 38 years as a homeless shelter, you’re not going to get a tremendous amount of backlash from the neighborhood,” said Commission co-chair, City Councilman Mark Aliff. Terms of the offer were not disclosed during Wednesday’s meeting, however the former shelter is abandoned and gutted, with no electricity, heat, or running water. Extensive renovations would be necessary. “Who’s going to pay for it? Who’s not going to pay for it? Where is the money going to come from,” Aliff said in an interview with News 5.
It’s the latest twist in a saga over the past year that has seen plans for sheltering Pueblo’s homeless fall apart seemingly as quickly as they came together. An empty warehouse on West 9th Street finally emerged as a temporary warming shelter for this winter, but a permanent solution including services and access to homeless resources remains elusive.
Aliff says the old Wayside Cross shelter is the ideal location because it’s the only property in Pueblo zoned specifically for utilization as a homeless shelter, an argument that came up when the property’s parking lot was designated for huge tents as a temporary warming shelter solution, a plan that also unraveled. “I think that most of the things that stopped us in the previous attempts to come up with a shelter, such as zoning, which is the big issue, are not an issue here because it’s already zoned as a homeless shelter,” Aliff said.
But Aliff says there may be even yet another option. He told the Commission and members of the public during Wednesday’s meeting that he has been approached about a 10-acre property on Pueblo’s east side that the owner wishes to sell for the purpose of becoming a homeless shelter. “The seller is aware of what it would be used for, and they want it to be used for that,” Aliff told News 5. The exact location of the property was not announced, but Aliff told News 5 that it’s “on the east end of 4th Street.”
It provided more food for thought for Commission members who worried about capacity issues at the old Wayside Cross building and other concerns such as heavy homeless-population pedestrian use along and across 4th Street near the shelter. The cost to renovate the building’s gutted interior also drew concern, as well as how and from where funding could be secured to pay for necessary repairs. “What we need to do is try and figure out how to make it happen,” Aliff said. “Whether it’s going to be a public/private endeavor, or if it’s just going to be private, or if it’s just going to be public. We’re, right now, in its infancy where we need to move forward.”
By a show of hands, a majority of the commission chose to move ahead with a feasibility study on whether the old Wayside building is a practical solution, as well as whether the 10-acre east-side site might be an option. By getting started so early in the year, Aliff says it should put them in good position to have a permanent sheltering solution in place by the next cold-weather season.