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Permanent shelter, renovations approved by planning commission

Room at the Inn Executive Director Nick Emmendorfer, right, addresses Marquette City Planning Commissioner Michael Dunn, city planner Dave Stensaas and zoning official Andrea Landers Tuesday evening at a public hearing on the need for a permanent homeless shelter. After reviewing the special land-use permit, the commission unanimously approved the proposal. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — Plans for a permanent homeless shelter above Room at the Inn along West Washington Street in Marquette will be moving forward, as a special land-use permit for the shelter was approved by the Marquette City Planning Commission at a meeting Tuesday night.

Before the planning commission unanimously voted to approve the proposal, Room at the Inn Executive Director Nick Emmendorfer told the commission that the facility needs a permanent shelter to better serve Marquette’s homeless population. Currently, the Room at the Inn collaborates with nine churches that provide overnight shelter on a rotating basis.

However, this approach is not a long-term solution, Emmendorfer said.

“The average for this shelter season is 20 to 25 individuals a night and my hope is … having a permanent shelter. I’m hoping this project better equips us to bring that number down,” Emmendorfer said.

The Warming Center has staff for the overnight shelter and there will be continued management once a permanent shelter is put in place, he said.

Though there is no screening process to test guests for drugs and/or alcohol, Emmendorfer noted that as executive director, he conducts background checks and works with Marquette City Police Detective Lt. Greg Kinonen to check for warrants on each person.

The number of people who are homeless is increasing and many of them are from the local area, Emmendorfer said, as 2019 showed 66 guests on file at RATI with 44 from Marquette County.

The project — which will operate under a special land-use permit for a homeless shelter — will include “commercial interior remodeling for the proposed homeless shelter areas within the structure, and removal of two windows for two new doors,” according to planning commission agenda documents.

The upstairs will include bunk beds and an emergency exit door. Guests will be expected to enter from the Washington Street entrance, Emmendorfer noted.

Sharon Maki, executive director of the Marquette Housing Commission, spoke about why the permanent shelter is needed. She said it’s necessary due to the dramatic rise in the homeless population, not only in the Upper Peninsula but across the nation.

“With them doing this expansion and having permanent housing, it is going to do so much good for the tenants that are there, the guests that are there. You try to get a job when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight. You try to be healthy, be focused, concentrate, go to school when you really don’t know where you’re going and your stuff is in a plastic tote,” Maki said. “… This will be the opportunity for those folks that have been bopping back and forth from shelter to shelter to shelter to church to church, to have one stable spot. And the Warming Center has done great work.”

Sarah Monte, outreach director at the Marquette Food Co-op, advocated for the proposal to be approved by the planning commission.

“We are strong supporters of opening a permanent shelter. We believe that is the best thing for our community and it is the best thing for all of the businesses that might be impacted,” Monte said. “The more we can minimize transition periods for these folks, the more that we have a safe place for them to go to be comfortable, to have services provided for them in an efficient way, the better it’s going to be for all of the local businesses and for the guests of RATI.”

When Emmendorfer first started at RATI, he immediately noticed a permanent shelter was going to be needed.

This solution will help homeless individuals transition out of that state and will hopefully reduce the homeless population in the city, he added.

“Marquette has the opportunity right now to get ahead of the homeless issue as opposed to some of the bigger cities who have started addressing the issue after it got out of hand,” he said. “Marquette getting on top of things ahead of time is really encouraging to see and we couldn’t do it without the community support.”

The next step in the process is for RATI to submit site plans to the city’s planning department for review. Emmendorfer said RATI hopes to have the project completed by the fall.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.

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