Bonita Springs City Council recently enacted a temporary halt, called a moratorium, on homeless shelter approvals.
The word around town is that a currently pending land development application for a St. Matthew’s House homeless shelter on Old 41 is not covered by the moratorium.
The application for the shelter was filed the evening before City Council enacted the law and so, proponents say, the application is exempt. That is an understandable advocate’s view.
But is that conclusion clear-cut? No words of the moratorium appear to exempt it. And, in this case, the application was filed weeks after the moratorium was proposed at City Council.
It seems fair minded that an application should be subject to a law already pending when the application is filed. Otherwise, the crafting of public policy would be trivialized, turning it into a game of “beat the clock.”
Why is the St. Matthew’s House application on track to be decided while a moratorium is in effect? City staff says it’s about protecting the City from litigation, always a consideration. And here there are several potential claims and many facts, known and unknown, that could affect the legal outcome.
But, of course, there are other considerations. Most important are the ones that led City Council to adopt the moratorium in the first place. Its goals were to protect the longterm interests of the community, social service providers and their clients.
City Council would do well to seriously consider the best course for the City so that its goals are met.
City Council was hardly plowing new ground when it enacted the moratorium. Throughout the country, municipalities of all sizes enact moratoria on all sorts of development. The concept is simple, and well accepted.
Times change and development pressures change, and sometimes it makes sense to take a step back, consider all the factors and give careful thought to what new code provisions would be advisable.
Bonita Springs currently has no laws governing homeless shelters, unlike municipalities all across the country. Every community should be doing its fair share to help the less fortunate, and Bonita should adopt homeless shelter regulations consistent with that concept.
Thoughtful homeless advocacy groups recognize the importance of appropriate regulation. For example, the Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project have opposed construction of a large shelter that, they say, violates New York City’s law limiting the size of homeless shelters.
Shelter size limits “serve an absolutely vital purpose: to protect the health and safety of shelter residents, many of whom are individuals living with disabilities, and of surrounding communities,” the Coalition and Legal Aid wrote in a joint statement.
If the largest city in the United States, and many others, limit shelter size, it hardly sounds far-fetched for Bonita Springs to consider a limitation that makes sense.
City staff has taken a good first step in forming a task force of community members and homeless advocates to consider issues, and regulations.
Considering the time constraints, a constructive next step would be to promptly engage a well-credentialed professional steeped in issues associated with this type of social service to work with the City’s capable staff.