Not finding any reasons to deny a petition by Fellowship Missions, the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday night approved a homeless shelter on East Winona Avenue.
Eric Lane, executive director of Fellowship Missions, presented the plan to the WBZA asking to use the former Ken Anderson Films building at 1520 E. Winona Ave., as a single homeless shelter serving men, women and children. Noting that safety is the mission’s high priority, Lane said the purpose of moving into the facility is to control costs, expand programs already offered to the homeless men and women who utilize the shelters, and be better located to utilize other services in the community.
Speaking in favor of the proposal was Terry Walls, who said he found himself homeless in January 2011 when his house was destroyed by fire and his marriage of 37 years crumbled. “I was truly blessed by the Lord of Lord, the king of kings. I’ve been fed, clothed and loved spiritually. Being in Fellowship Missions faith-based shelter in my grand years seems like chunks of heaven fell to earth. It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find from the things we leave behind,” he said. “Today, I have a second chance and a new outlook on life” because of Fellowship Missions.
Others, including Julie Eckel and Cora Horne also spoke in favor of the shelter. Eckel said she has been witness to the work of Fellowship Missions and is impressed with the “structure, rules and discipline. They make sure people follow the rules,” she insisted.
Horne, a staff member, noted that has been fortunate to have witnessed the ways people’s lives have changed from their involvement with Fellowship Missions. “People come in at the very bottom of their hope and they start taking care of themselves not only physically but spiritually, which has caused me to change and grow,” said Horne.
While the two letters of opposition were not read aloud, one member of the public did speak out against it. Jerry Opperud said that, while he nor any of the approximately 60 people in attendance are opposed to helping other people, he felt the matter should be something dealt with at the city level.
“This comes at a time when the city is contemplating a master plan and spending thousands of dollars to address the the needs of the city and a design for the city,” said Opperud. “This is meant to take us into the year 2030. This is as appropriate a time that Fellowship Missions and the city come together to address this matter. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it for the best interest of the city and the homeless.”
In the end, the five member BZA voted 4-0 in favor of allowing a variance for the homeless shelter in the commercial district. One member, Mary Ellen Jordan, abstained from the vote as she said she was asked to draw plans for the facility.
BZA president Tom Allen told those in the audience prior to beginning discussions, “Whether you like it or not doesn’t matter much,” indicating the board had to address the proposal based solely on the criteria of the petition. “Safety is our primary focus,” he added.