BROOKSVILLE — While acknowledging the growing need for shelter for Hernando County's homeless, the Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday denied a request by Jericho Road Ministries to expand an existing shelter from six to 48 clients.
The ministry was seeking to build 18 more bedrooms, possibly with a state grant. Two would be in the existing building on the Howell Avenue site and 16 in a new building.
The plan was to move the homeless men now in Jericho Road's Mondon Hill Road shelter to the Howell facility and move the women needing shelter to Mondon Hill Road.
Adjacent property owner Charles Mixson, the county's former public works director, noted that part of the property is in a flood zone, a potential problem for clients who do not have their own transportation.
Another neighbor said she was concerned about switching from female to male clients who might have drug, alcohol and domestic abuse backgrounds. "We have a lot of women and children in the neighborhood," said Janet Hehn.
Local businessman John Mitten urged the planning commissioners to approve the expansion, citing the growing need for the program.
But planning commissioners also had concerns.
"This is an issue of public safety," said Ron Caldi. He pointed out that the facility was near assisted living facilities and schools and in a residential neighborhood.
Jericho Road executive director Bruce Gimbel countered that its existing shelter locations have not had any reported incidents in 10 years in operation. The nearness to Brooksville was important because it meant that clients were closer to needed social services, including medical facilities and legal aid.
He also argued that the program he offers helps people who would have nowhere else to turn for help. "If we don't have a facility like this, that would be more dangerous to the community," Gimbel said.
To seek another hearing before the planning commission, Gimbel must wait 12 months or can make a petition for a hearing sooner if the plan changes. The County Commission may also choose to hear the case if Gimbel appeals the decision.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.