Springfield hotel purchase seen as homeless shelter solution

Residents near Villager Inn express concerns about plan, but city commissioners move forward.

Residents and members of a west side community group told Springfield City Commissioners they were concerned about the city’s planned $1.7 million purchase of the Villager Inn motel for use as a homeless shelter.

Commissioners approved moving forward with the project after hearing those concerns from and offering reassurances to neighborhood residents who said they were not notified of the proposed change of use in advance.

Sherry Walls, who lives across the street from the motel at 1715 W. North St., asked if the city has the resources to ensure the safety and security of the neighborhood.

“We’ve experienced turbulent times in the past at that location,” she said, citing fights, a stabbing, domestic violence and drug overdoses at the motel. “What assurance can you give that the shelter will be overseen by someone who is concerned for the community as well as the residents of the shelter?”

Officials hope the additional space to house the homeless will enable the city to avoid additional “tent city” situations that have recently become a concern, giving the city more control in addressing the issues homelessness presents.

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City Manager Bryan Heck explained the situation is common to cities across the country as the result of the COVID epidemic.

“COVID led to the displacement of more individuals, straining the infrastructure capacity necessary to shelter not only individuals but single parents and families with children,” he said. “We’ve been working at the city and county level to build capacity to address this issue.

“The Villager Inn will provide more temporary housing and supportive services to help our most vulnerable citizens transition to a better situation.”

Negotiations for the possible purchase of another motel, the Executive Inn, are also underway. Officials noted that both locations have been employed for the past two years as supplemental housing options for displaced individuals and families as congregate housing was eliminated due to the spread of COVID.

While the community members expressed sympathy for the plight of the homeless, they posed questions about planned operations at the new shelter, including ongoing maintenance and improvement costs, the need for mental health and drug/alcohol abuse counseling and current status of health and safety issues at the structure, including plumbing, roofing and electricity.

City officials offered additional details on the real estate transaction in response to questions about the purchase, indicating that procurement of the property began in June with an appraised value at $1.7 million for the property and structure. The city anticipates closing on the sale before the end of this year.

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That $1.7 million figure will be the final price tag and will include an adjacent vacant lot and all furnishings. The property has been subject to inspections and will offer up to 140 rooms depending on remodeling that can house displaced families. About half of those rooms will be able to serve occupants immediately when the city takes possession.

Commissioner Kevin O’Neill observed that both motels in question have been in use for this purpose for years now.

“If we have more control, it will be better for the neighbors,” he said. “This is an appropriate use for the moment, but if it would become unnecessary at some point, it’s already surrounded by commercial properties, so it’s also an investment for the city on a major commercial highway.”

Heck noted COVID exacerbated the problem of homelessness and the purchase of the property is afforded by the American Rescue Plan.

“But for that influx of money, we would still be struggling to find resources to address this issue,” Heck said.

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Melissa Good, who lives in the neighborhood and has volunteered at the food pantry, suggested shelter alone is just applying a bandage to a major wound.

Assistant Mayor Rob Rue agreed.

“We are looking to provide a basic need. It is a much larger issue. We have a lot of organizations that have come together to help address it. If we don’t do anything, we are going to have a bigger problem,” Rue said. “This gives us some control and ability to offer guidance to get folks to the next step.”

The city plans to turn over daily operations and management of the shelter to one of the community partners already providing services to the homeless, including mental health services and case management. One possible partner cited by city officials may be Sheltered Inc., formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network, which has provided services to the Clark County homeless since 1990.

Commissioner David Estrop said, “The city can’t do it alone. It has to be a community effort to provide the services these folks need. It may be 50 degrees out today, but it’s not going to stay at 50. This is Ohio. So there is an urgency to find solutions.”

Mayor Warren Copeland emphasized the city has a responsibility to do everything possible to help.

“People have to have a place to live. Having people and kids in tents in winter is just morally wrong,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been modified to attribute a statement to Rue.

By the Numbers:

1.7: The cost, in millions, of the Villager Inn purchase

140: The number of rooms in the Villager Inn

1715: Address on West North Street where the Villager Inn is located

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