Residents irate over shelter location

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Stefanie Stefan stands in front of the proposed homeless shelter location on Murray Street in Chatham. Stefan’s home is only a few doors down, and she had concerns.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Stefanie Stefan isn’t impressed with the fact Chatham-Kent’s new homelessness shelter is moving next door.

So much so, she’s thinking of selling her home as well as taking legal action against the municipality for allowing the Murray Street development to go forward.

“I’m not staying if this is coming,” Stefan told The Chatham Voice, noting her corner lot on Lansdowne is only separated from the homeless shelter by a row of trees and a fence.

The retiree, who moved to Chatham from Mount Elgin three years ago, said she chose her historic home because it’s located in a “pretty little neighbourhood.”

But she’s convinced a recently approved homeless shelter at 185 Murray St. will exacerbate property crimes and devalue real estate.

Stefan said she’s not alone. She’s taken it upon herself to canvass the neighbourhood with a petition and is getting an earful.

Some neighbourhood residents have already decided to sell, she added, with a couple of brand new real estate signs appearing in the last week.

“What’s concerning us is the safety issue,” Stefan said. “I know if they open it up, the problems will increase.”

Stefan, who calls herself a night owl, said she’s chased many a potential thief away from neighbouring homes during the day and night.

Another reason why people are upset, she said, is the fact that the municipality moved forward on the decision without consulting any of the neighbours.

Most learned about it in the news a couple of days before the committee of the whole meeting, she added.

“We were blindsided,” Stefan noted. “They (municipal officials) did it without even speaking with us.

“They should have at least knocked on our doors,” she said. “Some people didn’t even know about it.

“They are aghast and alarmed.”

Stefan said there are also questions with the fact the shelter was shunted to Chatham’s east side after downtown business owners rallied against it being located at Hope Haven in the downtown.

She said she’ll be seeking legal advice with the possibility of getting an injunction until the municipality proves “our neighbourhood will be absolutely safe.”

Stefan, a former machinist, said she knows about homelessness as she found herself in that position when she was a teenager in Toronto.

And while she understands the need for a shelter, she said the behaviour of its residents can’t be guaranteed.

“It sounds good on paper, but you can’t predict what a person will do,” she said.

Currently, the emergency shelter is located at the Travelodge motel on Chatham’s western edge, but the lease expires in May.

Chatham-Kent council approved the shelter May 21. The matter was deferred by council on March 7 pending information from local developers who informed council of alternative options to Hope Haven.

Two public meetings on the issue will be held at Studio One in the Chatham Cultural Centre, March 29 and April 6 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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