City Walk wins round in city fight to exploit Mahan Drive shelter
On Friday, an administrative judge ruled that the city of Tallahassee should allow City Walk Urban Mission to continue operating its homeless shelter on Mahan Drive as a “transitional residential facility.”
Judge GW Chisenhall’s 41-page ruling is a recommended order, which goes to the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission for review and final approval, he said.
Chisenhall recommended a list of 10 conditions for continued operations, including “real-time monitored camera surveillance with dedicated personnel patrolling the field” and “no acceptance from anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense. sexual ”.
► Read the full decision here.
City Walk has been the subject of legal action since the start of the year, when its rezoning request was denied. Before that, it operated as a shelter without proper permission, city officials said.
It faced a backlash from the community after it started up in a vacant building on Mahan Drive as a cold night shelter that quietly morphed into a full-time facility.
Now residents “are mostly recovering drug addicts and those recently released from prison. They need stable housing to become productive members of society,” Chisenhall wrote.
An attorney for Renee Miller, director of the shelter and pastor of the City Walk Church who oversees it, said the ordinance is a “victory for City Walk’s right to live out its faith and fulfill its call to care for people. most vulnerable in the city “.
Jordan Pratt, senior legal adviser at the First Liberty Institute, added in an email that it was “also a victory for the city of Tallahassee, which needs altruistic partners like City Walk to help resolve its homeless crisis. shelters “.
Pratt continued, “We remain hopeful that upon considering the (judge’s) thorough and neutral recommendation, the Planning Commission will do the right thing and comply with the decision.”
Chisenhall said the city “has failed to demonstrate” that the continued operation of the Mahan facility as a transitional accommodation – and not as a temporary shelter like the Kearney Center – “will cause a… nuisance. “or” will negatively impact existing uses of the surrounding area or change its character.
In July, a 31-year-old man was found dead in a room, according to a death investigation report, but police said no foul play was suspected.
Testimonies “from residents and business owners did not convince the undersigned that the problems in the area resulting from City Walk’s operation of a low-barrier shelter persisted after the transition to operations (transitional residential ), ”He wrote.
“Although there is conflicting evidence on this point, the totality of the evidence indicates that conditions in the area surrounding the Mahan facility have substantially returned to normal,” the judge added. A request for comment from the Tallahassee City Attorney’s Office is pending.
Friday’s order comes just days after City Walk suffered a setback in a separate legal battle.
On November 3, Circuit Judge J. Layne Smith agreed with a special magistrate from the Development Review Committee and upheld a ruling that the shelter had violated city codes by operating without proper zoning permits. The magistrate had rendered a decision in April.
On November 10, mission lawyers filed a petition asking the court to issue a written opinion that also addresses City Walk’s main allegation that the city violated its religious freedoms, in the hope that ‘it would prompt a higher court to consider. .
In addition to the First Amendment claims, City Walk argued that Smith’s decision was at odds with the opinion of United States Chief Justice Mark Walker last year in a similar federal case that City Walk had. filed against Wakulla County.
In the meantime, Miller said God called his church to use its space to serve those in need, including providing services to the homeless through transitional housing.
“City Walk receives no government funding and has an annual budget of $ 900,000 from private donations and the operation of a thrift store on Monroe Street,” Chisenhall said in his order.
Miller said the facility was still operating normally: “We are fortunate to have provided over 10,000 safe nights of sleep and 30,000 meals since it all began. We are still going strong.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: City Walk homeless shelter in Tallahassee wins battle against the city