Shawnee locals filled commission chambers and spilled into the lobby outside, due to a lack of seating, to attend Wednesday's planning commission meeting.
The afternoon meeting featured one case item, a public hearing to rezone 204 N. Louisa to accommodate an overnight shelter for the Shawnee Rescue Mission.
With nearly 40 letters received in support and opposition to the potential rezoning, the planning commission voted unanimously to have a special meeting Wednesday, Oct. 10, in the commission chambers for further discussion of the matter.
The commissioners requested Glenn and Melissa Blankenship be present to answer more questions about the operational structure of the potential shelter, and budgeting questions.
Justin Erickson, community development/planning director, said during staff reports that the property would not need to be rezoned to be used as a day shelter, but certain modifications would need to be made, including more restrooms and a sprinkler system in case of fires.
Tom Jones, CEO of Oklahoma City Rescue Mission, addressed the commission saying that at least nine people currently in the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission were from Shawnee. People go to Oklahoma City to get the services they need because they are unable to get them in Shawnee, he said.
He added that the substance abuse program used by the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission, "Bridge to Life" has a percent rate higher than 70 percent.
Homelessness is a real problem, Jones said.
"The truth of the matter is they (the homeless) exist in our society – they exist in Shawnee," he said.
"What Shawnee Rescue Mission is attempting to do is offer them help," Jones said. "The beauty of it is what those people are coming there for is an opportunity to get off the streets."
When asked about the allegations of robbery, vandalism, public sexual acts, and others, Jones said that the rescue mission cannot be held responsible for what adults are doing off of their premises.
The Oklahoma City Rescue Mission employs more than 30 full-time staff members, and Jones said the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission would work with the Shawnee Rescue Mission to ensure they have the appropriate amount of staff members.
Several members of the community spoke in support and opposition.
Holly Gordon was the first to speak. She said she lives not far from the Shawnee Rescue Mission.
"My quality of life as a homeowner in Shawnee has diminished," she said.
"There is a great need," Gordon added. "But I don't honestly believe a shelter in a residential area is the answer."
Ray Belford spoke in support of the rescue mission.
"The only issue is overnight lodging," Belford said, citing Erickson's comment about rezoning being unnecessary for a day shelter.
Page 2 of 2 - "It seems to me, the objections don't matter, because they can do all those things anyway," he said in response to concern about the homeless walking through neighborhoods and spending time around the rescue mission.
"It seems to me people are talking about criminals, not the homeless," Shawnee local James Morton said in support of the rescue mission. "I've seen people that weren't doing very good get better."
Teresa Cody, a local business owner, urged the commission to "take all the facts into consideration."
The planning commission will look at this item again at the special called meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in commission chambers at Shawnee City Hall.