Dozens of neighbors who live near a downtown Coeur d’Alene homeless drop-in center say in the two years the center has been there, they’ve been subjected to panhandling at their homes, urine and feces in alleyways, trash thrown over their fences and drug dealing on their street corners.
“My neighborhood is not anti-homeless,” said Cherie McCabe, who lives near Fresh Start, the drop-in center at 1524 E. Sherman Ave. But, she said, “It’s like we’re in jail. I literally do not want to go into my backyard.”
McCabe was among about 85 people who signed petitions submitted to the City Council on Tuesday asking that Fresh Start be relocated. The neighbors say they support Fresh Start’s mission – to provide food, clothing, showers and a winter warming center – but that it shouldn’t be located near homes.
Fresh Start’s board president said he’s saddened that a small number of the hundreds of people the center serves annually are causing the neighbors such problems. A meeting of neighbors, Fresh Start leaders and city officials has been scheduled for July 20 to seek a solution.
“I wish I had the answers. I don’t have the crystal ball,” said the Rev. Pat Bell, president of Fresh Start’s board of directors and the rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in downtown Coeur d’Alene. Bell said six to 10 “chronic homeless – those who don’t have a desire to change their situation” are causing the problems, out of the 1,500 people the center serves annually.
He said Fresh Start wants to be sensitive to the neighbors’ concerns.
“I don’t blame them for having those issues. I would have them myself,” Bell said. “It’s tough to help people when they don’t want to be helped.”
Stan Schedler, whose family owns Schedler-Mack Insurance at 1401 E. Sherman Ave., said he and other area business owners regularly have vagrants come in to ask for money or to use the bathroom or phone. Schedler said he fenced a narrow space between the back of his building and a small shed because people were sleeping there. He said he has found empty alcohol bottles and syringes behind his business.
“It’s not that Fresh Start is doing anything wrong,” Schedler said. “Their heart is in the right place. It’s their customers.”
City Councilman Mike Kennedy has been talking to representatives of both the neighborhood and Fresh Start and said he’d like to find a “community-driven solution.” He said the situation is a “Fresh Start problem, but also an East Sherman issue.” He suggested a local improvement district might need to be created to spruce up that end of town.
“In a roundabout and unpleasant way, this might be the way to have that area improve itself,” Kennedy said.
Neighbors like Melody Turner and McCabe, however, said they attribute the uptick in activity entirely to Fresh Start’s presence. Over the years, they said they’ve experienced periodic panhandling or theft, but nothing as regular as the activity of recent months.
Coeur d’Alene Police Lt. Don Ashenbrenner said calls to Fresh Start have risen from 22 in 2009 to 47 in 2010. In the first half of 2011, police have been called to the facility 31 times, he said.