CLARKSVILLE — A zoning change that will allow for the construction of a supportive housing facility for homeless people is moving forward with a favorable recommendation despite pleas from several Claysburg residents.
The Clarksville Plan Commission provided a favorable recommendation to allow for multifamily residential use of the Akers Avenue site after nearly a two-hour discussion Wednesday night.
The Clarksville Town Council will consider the zoning change during its Aug. 18 meeting. It’s one step in the process needed for the construction of a 44-unit supportive housing facility brought forth through a partnership that’s led by Building and Impacting Communities and Indianapolis-based BWI Development, LLC.
Representatives of those organizations said their goal is to create a place that will help homeless people get back on their feet by ensuring they have a roof over their head. It will not be an emergency shelter or transitional housing, and there will be on-site staff to “encourage their independence and their growth,” said BIC Executive Director Vincent Smith.
The site, which is behind Clark Memorial Hospital, now has vacant houses that would be razed to make way for the facility. Gary Hobbs, president of BWI, said the hospital administration suggested the site after similar proposals for a supportive housing facility were rejected twice in Jeffersonville.
The property is in Clarksville, but just barely. The Claysburg neighborhood in Jeffersonville begins just a few hundred feet away from Akers Avenue, and several residents voiced their concerns about the project to the plan commission.
Colleen Shanklin said she’s lived in Claysburg since 1978.
“Since then, we’ve had to endure many low-income housing complexes built in the Claysburg area,” she said.
Claysburg II Tower, Serenity House and the homeless shelter Catalyst Rescue Mission were among the facilities Shanklin named.
She emphasized homelessness is a problem.
“I think it’s terrible, it should never be, but how much can one neighborhood take?” she said.
Residents of the area said they constantly encounter homeless people in the neighborhood and even on their private properties. Shanklin said she once found a homeless man sleeping in her carport.
Linda Russell was moved to tears while she detailed what she described as problems caused by putting so many services for low-income and homeless residents in one area. She added that though the property is technically in Clarksville, the closest residents to the site are in Jeffersonville.
“It will not affect Clarksville, but it will affect us,” she said.
Some Jeffersonville residents spoke in support of the proposal. They said having a supportive housing facility would alleviate some of the problems residents are experiencing because it will get homeless people off the streets.
“This is a problem in our community. It’s not just in Claysburg, it’s in all of our community,” said Carolyn King.
Finding stable housing is a huge piece of the puzzle for getting homeless people back on track, she continued.
Hobbs said the location is ideal because of its proximity to the hospital. Smith added that the facility would take the place of vacant housing, which would be good for Clarksville and Claysburg.
Smith said he lives close to a similar BWI facility in Anderson, and that the apartment complex is secure and the residents there don’t cause problems for people living nearby.
Like in Anderson, the Clarksville facility would be footed with housing vouchers and state subsidies. Smith said once homeless residents find a job, they would be expected to pay toward their rent.
“It’s not just about bringing people in and giving them housing,” he said. “We want to help building community.”
Jeffersonville City Councilman Dustin White, who represents the Claysburg neighborhood, also spoke against the development. He said there are already places for the homeless to go in Southern Indiana, but many refuse the help.
Karen Henderson, a Clarksville council member who is also on the plan commission, said it’s important for such housing developments to have the support of residents who live nearby.
“It’s pretty obvious that this is not going to harmonize with this neighborhood,” said Henderson, who voted against the favorable recommendation for the zoning change.
Councilman and commission member John Gilkey saw the matter differently.
“I’m having a hard time understanding why you’d rather have them in your backyard as opposed to this development,” Gilkey said to those who spoke against the project.
Gilkey supported the favorable recommendation, and he will have a vote on the matter when it comes before the council.
If the council approves the zoning change, a development plan for the project would still have to be OK’d by the plan commission.