Homeless shelter move delayed

COVINGTON - It's been 18 months since the city of Covington agreed to help fund a new homeless shelter to be located on Turner Lake Circle, but the shelter has yet to open.

Cheryl Heard, assistant director for Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter, located in Porterdale, said the wait has been frustrating and everyone involved is ready to move in as soon as possible.

"At this point, we're with our hands up in the air wondering when we're going to move ourselves," she said.

Heard said representatives from the Covington Housing Authority, which owns the property and is leasing it to the shelter, gave a date of March 10 for partial completion of renovations, which was not met, and a completion date of April 1, which she doubts will be met.

"It's been a long, long time and believe me, we are so ready to move. We're just at the mercy of them and when they get the building done," she said.

However, Jim Alexander, attorney for the Housing Authority, said renovations were completed around March 20 and the only hold ups now are lack of a certificate from the Environmental Health Department and a Certificate of Occupancy from the city of Covington.

He said it is the responsibility of those who run the shelter to comply with Environmental Health regulations.

"Because of the nature of the situation, the kitchen is inspected just like a restaurant and is subject to the same rules," he said.

Once Environmental Health signs off, the city of Covington will issue a certificate of occupancy, he said.

The longest delay was waiting about nine months for McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council to move out of the building, Alexander said. Renovations could not begin until that time, he said, noting that McIntosh was waiting on construction of its new building.

"Since they got out, everything has moved fairly quickly, though not as quickly as we would like," he said.

The Rev. Clara Lett, director of the homeless shelter, has given numerous move-in dates since the Covington City Council agreed to buy the property and help fund renovations in September 2007.

Lett initially hoped the building would be ready by spring 2008. She later said summer and then December of that year.

FaithWorks, a nonprofit organization that aids residents with utility and rent payments, and the Community Food Pantry, have been located in adjacent buildings for months.

"I would anticipate it's an any day-type situation," Alexander said of when the homeless shelter move could take place.

Renovations included installation of walls and a new roof, along with shower stalls and a sprinkler system, painting and other miscellaneous repairs.

The city paid for the property and turned it over to the Housing Authority, and paid for shower and sprinkler system installation at a cost of $1.08 million.

A $100,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development helped pay for repairs as well.

Once completed, the building will sleep 80 people. Lett has said the shelter in Porterdale, located on Hemlock Street behind Rainbow Covenant Church, was so crowded in recent months that some people were sleeping on the floor.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.