There's a lot to like about a plan hatched by Grand Valley Catholic Outreach to acquire a downtown apartment complex so it can help get chronically homeless people off the streets.
The Grand Junction City Council is so receptive to the idea that council members are considering budgeting $500,000 to help Catholic Outreach acquire the 45-unit Downtown Suites at First Street and White Avenue, currently on the market for $4.7 million.
That kind of zeal to make a difference in the lives of our community's most vulnerable citizens is laudable. Everything about the idea makes sense — except for one glaring oversight.
If the city and the Downtown Development Authority are serious about turning the downtown area into a hip and thriving "live, work, play" mixed-use neighborhood, this effort potentially stands in the way of that.
We don't relish being the ones to point out the obvious. Perhaps the City Council seems "all in" on this idea precisely because no one wants to come off as a heartless jerk.
Sister Karen Bland, Catholic Outreach executive director, described the opportunity to buy the Downtown Suites and use it to house homeless as falling "so well into our mission."
That's undeniably true. But shouldn't the council be asking whether a housing complex for the homeless fits into the mission of a downtown resplendent with residential development?
To be fair, Catholic Outreach has established the 23-unit St. Benedict Place near Third Street and White Avenue and the 16-unit St. Martin Place near Third Street and Pitkin Avenue. These are tidy developments whose residents are screened, highly supervised and case-managed. Nobody would argue that they're an impediment to downtown development plans.
The units at Downtown Suites, across from the shuttered City Market on Rood Avenue, are on the edge of the downtown area. While they're in a benign spot, the existence of a large housing complex potentially thwarts future market-rate developments. A developer would probably never look at the City Market property as potential for a hotel or high-end lofts precisely because of its proximity to rescue housing.
The idea of using public resources to create housing for the homeless is sound as far as we're concerned. We're not arguing against the intent here. As Councilor Phyllis Norris said, the group targeted for service is doomed to roam parks and streets without some kind of intervention. This is the kind of project that will help the homeless — the invisible among us — and vagrants.
We agree with Councilor Duke Wortmann's assessment that "this is a worthwhile project." We're simply asking the City Council if they've considered the big picture. Couldn't the same kind of project be replicated elsewhere? Perhaps not. Catholic Outreach officials said the Downtown Suites "fell into our laps."
Now it's up to the council to ascertain whether this sudden opportunity to put a dent in homelessness — and its attendant social ills — is more important than the long-term future of the downtown area. Perhaps the two are not incompatible. But we'd like to hear the dialogue before the council paints itself into a corner.
As it is, the project sounds half-cooked, with Wortmann urging action to be taken quickly.
Everybody's heart is in the right place. Catholic Outreach is the epitome of good people doing good work.
Is anyone on the council willing to ask whether this kind of project can occur somewhere that doesn't impede plans for a vibrant downtown?