Meeting in the middle

First Posted: 10/26/2013

The tug-of-war over the construction of a homeless shelter — sorry, but we don’t know what else to call it — landed where it was always ticketed, in the middle after a reasonable compromise.

But because outcomes of such public disputes are typically distilled down to winners and losers, we will pencil in the scorecard: The opponents of the move of the Lumberton Christian Care Center to Second Street certainly didn’t win, even though the City Council, in an 11th-hour move to make as many people as possible happy, did lower the number of beds the center could provide mentally ill vagrants or a family whose trip to Disney World was interrupted by a disabled mini-van.

Time will answer the question of whether revitalization efforts in downtown Lumberton will be stymied by the construction of the new shelter; we know that one Lumberton businessman who has backed up his belief in the downtown area with dollars and sweat is ambivalent about more investment.

Proponents of the shelter argued the move was just a 265-foot hop, so why all the noise.

That was part of the rub, because the move did bring the center from the back yard to the front porch, closer to the centerpiece for downtown activity, the plaza. It also took off the market a prime piece of real estate.

But the real issue is the Lumberton Christian Care’s clear intent to expand services. It will continue to feed the hungry through its soup kitchen, but the new shelter will have beds for 24 people, more than twice as many as now can be accommodated, but fewer than the 44 sought before the compromise, and the maximum stay was increased 30 fold, from three days to three months. The center will also for the first time be permitted to provide counseling.

In a letter to this newspaper by the center’s board, it was said that “examples of those who have been housed in the emergency shelter include families who have lost their homes to fire, battered men, people who have lost their lease and are waiting for their new home to be available, or interstate travelers who have vehicle breakdowns and no money to pay for a motel room.”

Except for the battered men, these are not candidates for counseling or a 90-day stay. So no one should be surprised that eyebrows were raised as it is plain that the center envisions a new kind of client.

There might have been a different outcome if opponents had mobilized earlier, but too many dollars were spent on the Second Street location, and a do-over would have jeopardized the $1.2 million in grant money that will build the new shelter.

All in all, it was a good discussion, and an example of how government should work. The conversation was mostly civil, between two groups of people with different passions, but both noble. Few voices were raised, and there were just a couple of below-the-belt attempts to label the dispute as “greed vs. need.” You know who you are.

We believe that proponents and opponents of the proposed shelter share in celebrating that Lumberton has reached out to the most vulnerable among us, and that with counseling, more than a tourniquet is being offered.

Count us among them.

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