FARM homeless shelter closed
A recently opened homeless shelter in Prince Edward County has closed its doors until a special use permit for the property can be obtained.
Although Farmville Area Rescue Mission (FARM) has housed homeless individuals in a transitional housing unit on Back Hampden Sydney Road, it has been asked by the county to stop using the house at this time.
During Tuesday night’s board of supervisors meeting, there were dual public hearings scheduled with both the planning commission and supervisors hearing from FARM administrators, neighbors, community members and Planning and Zoning Administrator Rob Fowler.
The commission and board deliberated on whether there should be language added to the County Zoning Ordinance to permit “transitional housing facilities” in A1 and A2 zones with a special use permit.
Ultimately, the proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance was sent back to the planning commission for further deliberation and study, according to Assistant County Administrator Sarah Puckett.
County Administrator Wade Bartlett said this means the commission will meet in January to discuss both amendments and, if necessary, FARM’s special use permit. The earliest supervisors would hold a vote and public hearings would be Feb. 14. If a special use permit is approved, it would take effect immediately.
Bartlett said miscommunication led to FARM being able to use the shelter for several months.
“They didn’t know that it’s not allowed,” Bartlett said, noting this is the first transitional housing property in Prince Edward County. “They did talk to the building official. He is not in charge of the zoning and so he did not have the authorization to allow them to operate according to the planning and zoning ordinance.”
Bartlett said once he learned that, he had “no choice.”
“I think if there’s a dire need there will be a way that the person or persons will find a place to stay,” he said of those looking for a place to stay while the house FARM used is closed.
During the meeting, several parties spoke up asking questions and expressing concern and confusion.
“Has the planning commission discussed this before tonight?” asked Buffalo District Supervisor C.R “Bob” Timmons Jr. “I would like to make a motion that we make no changes to the definition and send it back to the planning commission.”
The motion was retracted “temporarily” at the request of Robert Jones, vice chairman, Lockett District supervisor and board representative for the planning commission.
FARM Vice President Monroe Preston, who is also chairperson for Prince Edward County Salvation Army and owner of the FARM shelter property, spoke first. He said three churches housed FARM clients on a rotating basis before the home, which has three bedrooms and could house between four and six people at most. Preston said the churches are only available to use January-March, and that the churches are very cold.
“I drew up an agreement,” Preston said. “There’s no intention for someone to stay for a long period of time…. (but) we could have somebody freezing who doesn’t have to be,” if the special use permit does not pass.
Preston said FARM has received at least 20 calls from the homeless since the shelter has been in use.
FARM secretary Deborah Warner said following an intake process at one of the churches and a drive to the property, clients “have dinner with us; we allow them to wash up and sleep.”
Warner said FARM checks the individual’s belongings, asks them about medications and looks at state police and other websites to make sure the person does not have outstanding arrests, warrants against them or is on the sex offender registry.
Timmons said he has a petition from 29 property owners around the shelter saying they do not want it.
“I would have to say we’re good neighbors. We haven’t had any issues. We want to be a good neighbor,” Warner said.
Timmons later said, “They have a right to be concerned.”
In cases of domestic violence, Preston said those individuals would be referred to Madeline’s House.
“If someone came to the house in the middle of the night, I would refuse them entry. If they didn’t leave, I would call the police,” Warner added.
“Our stats do show we get a couple hundred homeless people per year. You may not see them, but they’re there,” FARM President Johanna Shular said.
“There is truly a need for a homeless shelter here,” said Farmville District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones.
Robert Jones said he didn’t feel like the board had enough information to make a decision.
“If we rush into it, then we miss some of the issues. I think tonight would be too quick,” he said.
Both the board and the commission voted in favor of Robert Jones’ motion to send the issue back to the planning commission.