Homeless shelter closes doors
City displaces 100 people after non-renewal of The Open Shelter lease
Published: Thursday, July 15, 2004
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
The Open Shelter, a downtown refuge for homeless men in the area, closed July 1. Because of failed attempts to get its lease renewed, The Open Shelter was forced to close its doors and put nearly 100 homeless men back on the street.
The Open Shelter, which had been open since 1983, had helped over 20,000 people in its years of operation. The shelter provided sleeping quarters for about 100 men each night and helped with employment and housing services. It also gave medical services, offered nightly meals, and assisted people in obtaining government benefits and referrals to alcohol and drug treatment. The Open Shelter also gave clean clothing, showers, and personal hygiene items to the people there. Many of these services expired along with the lease.
"The City of Columbus owns the building; our lease has expired and they won't renew it," said Kent Beittel, CEO of The Open Shelter. "They want to tear the building down and put something fancy in its place. It's like they don't care about the people."
Mike Brown, spokesman for Mayor Coleman, said the situation with the Open Shelter is a difficult one but has been a long time coming.
"Kent sold the building to the city," Brown said. "We have been planning this for a year, and he knew we are rebuilding the Franklintown area. We have worked with Kent at least twice a week for the past three months preparing for the close."
Janelle Simmons, spokeswoman for the Community Shelter Board, said Beittel had negotiated a closing date with the City of Columbus after he had sold the building to receive funding to keep the shelter open.
Even though the actual shelter location at 370 W. State St. is closing, The Open Shelter Inc. will continue to help the homeless and marginally housed people the best it can, Beittel said.
"We are still very active in the community," Beittel said. "We are still continuing our outreach efforts and helping with banking services. We are still advocates for the people we help."
Brown said Columbus has been getting national attention for the work it has done working with the homeless. The Community Shelter Board, which handles all homeless shelters and funding, and the City of Columbus have been working together, and Beittel refused to work with them.
"Kent walked away from all the efforts, millions of dollars and sold his building to the City of Columbus," Brown said. "He will have a hard time succeeding if he doesn't want to work together."
Simmons said the board was asked by the City of Columbus and The Open Shelter to help those staying there to find new housing or other shelter accommodations after the shelter closed.
"The CSB started a plan in May to find options for the men living there, and we helped them locate other housing," Simmons said. "There are still case managers working with the men to continue the services they need to be successful."
The residents of The Open Shelter who were displaced were sent to other shelters in the area, the YMCA or motels paid for by the city, Beittel said.
"This is a real smoke-and-mirrors show," Beittel said. "The City of Columbus is paying out thousands of dollars and not really dealing with the problem. These people still have nowhere to go. They are overcrowding the other shelters."
All the shelters are working together through the board, and they have been successful, Brown said.
"There has been 400 new beds created over the past two years," he said. "The City of Columbus and the CSB work well together."
There are many local supporters and volunteers who help at The Open Shelter. Numerous groups, such as fraternities and sororities and the Ohio State Student Union Board, have volunteered time and effort to make The Open Shelter better, Beittel said. Some organizations donate food, clothing, old furniture, or even just their time to help things run smoothly.
"We are very grateful for the support we have received from the community," Beittel said. "We still exist, and we are still going to help the most vulnerable people in our community and act as their voice. We still need the help and support of the community even though our shelter has closed."
"Other big cities are looking at Columbus because we are doing a good job," Brown said.
Many cities are using programs modeled after what Columbus is doing to fight homelessness, he said.
Beittel said The Open Shelter is working with some businesses downtown to possibly open another location in the future.
"There is a need for a place for these people to go," Beittel said. "Several people are interested in helping out."
The Open Shelter Inc.'s business office is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.