The LaGrange Plan Commission last week voted 4 to 3 to recommend rezoning a long-vacant parcel of land across the street from Brookfield on the southwest corner of Ogden and East avenues to allow the construction of a three-story facility providing support services and 20 “permanent supportive” studio apartments for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.
The recommendation will now go to the LaGrange Village Board, which can either accept or reject the commission’s decision. It’s unclear exactly when the board might consider the recommendation.
Tina Rounds, executive director of BEDS Plus, the LaGrange-based agency proposing the new facility, said she was told the board could consider it at the March 23 meeting of the village board. However, Patrick Benjamin, the village’s community development director, said the board likely would be looking at an April date to take up the issue.
“This is not a new model,” said Rounds of the facility the agency is proposing. “There is a lot of information from around the country and regionally about how these facilities don’t have a negative impact on a community,” Rounds said.
The vote at the commission’s meeting on March 10 last almost until midnight and followed nearly five hours of public comment from dozens of residents and from representatives from BEDS Plus.
Many residents, both at the meeting last week and those who provided written comments to the commission prior to the meeting, opposed the facility on the grounds that services for the homeless already were too concentrated in LaGrange and that the new facility would increase that concentration. They also feared the new facility might increase the risk of crime.
Among the documents presented to the Plan Commission was a petition bearing the signatures of almost 150 LaGrange residents opposing the facility.
“I felt some of the public comment and questions were rooted in fear and misinformation,” said Rounds. “But the plan commission had all the facts in front of them.”
LaGrange resident Sue Kimberling compared the facility to an SRO hotel that would lack adequate supervision and would make LaGrange “a regional center for the homeless.”
Meanwhile, LaGrange resident Femi Oyesanya worried that the area near Ogden and East is already a crime hotspot in the village and that the facility would increase crime and have a negative impact on property values.
“You cannot purposely approve institutions that would negatively impact the quality of my [life] in my back door,” Oyesanya said.
Others, including Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark, who attended last week’s hearing, lent their support to the facility.
“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there,” said Ketchmark. “We have homeless people here now. I think [BEDS] surely showed there’s a need for this.”
The facility would consolidate BEDS Plus’ administrative and support services offices, now located at two different LaGrange churches, under one roof. Anyone seeking to live in one of the 20 studio units would have to apply and undergo a screening process. And local people would be given preference, according to Rounds.
If the facility is built, said Rounds, two of BEDS’ four overnight emergency shelters in LaGrange would be relocated to facilities in other towns.
Rounds said that facilities such as the one that BEDS Plus is proposing will help decrease the number of chronically homeless people by affording them a place to live.
“Everyone agrees that a safety net is important, and most people want to help folks, but there’s a strong sentiment that they do not want [homeless services] close to their home,” Rounds said. “My statement to that would be: We have to give them a home; move more people to more permanent situations. And if we preference those [housing units] to people who are local, we dramatically decrease that need.”
In response to a charge that the new facility would attract up to 80 people each day for support services who would then be left without a place to go when the service office closes at 5 p.m. each day, Rounds said BEDS in LaGrange serves about 20 people throughout each day and that the agency “has never served more than 30 persons at one time, and we never will.”
Should the LaGrange Village Board approve BEDS Plus’ project, construction likely would begin in 2016, said Rounds, and would be set for occupancy in 2017.