The Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association is objecting to a plan to turn a historic federal building into a facility that would help the homeless.
“We are totally sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, but it wouldn’t be the highest and best use of that piece of property,” said John McLeod, chairman of the association. “We don’t have a homeless problem in downtown Coeur d’Alene.”
St. Vincent de Paul and other groups are asking for permission to use the Coeur d’Alene Federal Building after the U.S. District Court moves to a facility now being built.
The three-story brick building was built in 1928 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lynn Peterson, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul in Coeur d’Alene, said the building would not become a shelter, and she was stunned the downtown association didn’t want her organization in the building.
“I would have thought they would have asked us what we’re doing,” Peterson said. “We’ve applied to put our offices there. One of the main misconceptions about homeless people is how they look. They look like you and me.”
Fresh Start has also said it would like to expand and has applied to take over the building. That group offers showers and other help to the homeless.
McLeod said he would rather see it used by Lewis-Clark State College or the Coeur d’Alene School District.
“We’d love to see it become an office for the school district,” he said. “It could also be used for retail or office space.”
The college and school district would like to use the building, but under the 1987 Stewart B. McKinley Act, homeless programs get top priority.
The school district’s superintendent, Harry Amend, said the district recently opted not to make an attempt to move its administration offices into the building.
“The cost of remodeling and making it suitable for school use would have been significant,” Amend said. “We knew we were behind the homeless agencies, and we were told that we couldn’t partner with another agency. The building only has 22-parking spaces. We decided to go ahead and not apply.”
Homeless people already visit the downtown area, said Kevin Kram, director of Cherished One Ministries.
“There’s a facility that serves homeless people less than half a block from the federal building,” he said. “Some of the people who work in the restaurants downtown are homeless.”
He also wondered where a facility to help the homeless could be placed if not in the federal building.
“One question I have for them is, where would they like them to be?” he said. “Get a map and a highlighter and mark the places where it’s acceptable for people and then present that to the homeless coalition.”
Who moves into the building will be decided by the U.S. General Services Administration and office of Housing and Urban Development.
“I know the building wasn’t designed to be a soup kitchen,” said Terry Cooper, manager of the downtown association. “We need to have a good understanding of what’s going to happen.”