A SAVANNAH City Council discussion on a Salvation Army proposal to establish a new transitional-housing shelter led to a sometimes-heated conversation about balancing community needs in a traditionally underprivileged neighborhood.
When meeting on Dec. 10, Savannah’s City Council discussed the authorization of a special-use permit for the placement of a new Salvation Army shelter at 2305 Augusta Ave.
The request was for the former Francis Bartow Homes building, a 12-acre site, to be used as a shelter for emergency and transitional use by men, women, and children.
“Our need is to build a new Center of Hope that will be a place for us to provide social services and sheltering for men, and especially women and children,” said Paul Egan, Corps Officer of the Salvation Armies of Savannah.
If approved, the Augusta Avenue location will replace the Salvation Army’s current Montgomery Street shelter location.
“Over the last 40-something years we’ve been revamping it the best we can to be able to help out with women and children, and we could do so much more, especially if we had rooms better designed for what we want to do,” said Egan.
With a capacity for 186 individuals, the new location would provide space for families to stay together in their own rooms, replacing the current facility’s multi-family, dorm-style housing structure.
Egan’s request was recommended by the Metropolitan Planning Commission, neighborhood-association presidents of West Savannah and Woodville, and the Housing Authority of Savannah.
However, not everyone agrees that a Salvation Army shelter would be a good fit for the Westside community. Neighborhood residents addressed the City Council meeting to speak out against the new facility. District 1 Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier, who represents the area where the shelter is planned to be established, also voiced opposition to the proposal.
“Why would you take one of the poorest neighborhoods in Savannah and put a homeless shelter there?” Lanier asked.
Lanier said that West Savannah community members have long been requesting sustainable investments in the area to foster healthy and sustainable outcomes for the neighborhood, with no results.
In response to this discussion, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said that the parcel in question is not city property, but belongs to the Housing Authority of Savannah.
According to Earline Davis, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Savannah, several people have requested the creation of facilities that do not comply with the special-use ordinance required for the building on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“What the Housing Authority has done with respect to the West Savannah redevelopment plan that was commissioned by the city, that plan said you needed senior housing, single-family homes, as well as transitional housing. While the city could not dictate what is done on the Housing Authority property, we wanted to be good neighbors and support what the city’s plan said was needed,” Davis said.
According to Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, the decision for this space is a balancing act between neighborhood needs and the city’s overall goals.
“The challenge for this council is to balance the need for us to foster and maintain good relations with our charitable organizations who reach out to the most vulnerable among us but also recognize the need to, for once, show the Westside that they are a part of Savannah and we care,” Gibson-Carter said.
Following the sometimes-heated discussion, Johnson said that the request would be postponed until a January City Council meeting.
Egan said that if the city denies the Salvation Army’s request, they will have to restart their planning from scratch.