Seeking a solution
Meloday Gault, president of Butler Homeless Initiative, is now looking to the future after withdrawing a request to the El Dorado City Commission for a permit for a transitional housing location.
She made the decision to withdraw the request after hearing the many comments from the public at the meeting Monday evening.
"I was sitting there for over two hours listening to various people speak and share their opposition," she began.
She said there was one gentleman who is a neighbor who shared his story of his wife having cancer and how at some point they might need to sell their home and have that money available to them. He was worried about property values going down.
"That and just some of the other things as I was sitting there listening, I had this real feel of compassion," Gault said. "Not just toward those who we want to assist, but really everybody. It's hard for me to separate we want to help these people maybe on the backs of these other people. It wasn't making sense to me.
"While some concerns might be a little unfounded or not grounded in fact necessarily, it's still their feelings and it's still their concerns. I just had an overwhelming feeling maybe this wasn't the right place or the right time."
She said she believes they have some good support from city staff, the El Dorado City Commission, community members and pastors.
"The pastors in the community have been great stepping up and supporting this," she said.
Looking to the future, Gault said there may be a facility that is more conducive to what they are doing.
"I do want people to see it as something that is helping the community and benefitting, with a positive outlook on it rather than a negative," Gault continued. "I feel like we really weren't quite there yet.
"I also think the people that we will see, some times because they are down on their luck and maybe have exhausted all of their resources and support system, they're going to have a hard time building back up, so they're going to need a lot of support."
She gave the example of the "it takes a village to raise a child" thought process.
"If they start out with negativity around, it will be harder for them to succeed and feel they have the support of a community that wants to lift them up," she continued.
As for the decision to withdraw the request, she said it wasn't planned and wasn't a decision her board knew about, although they are backing the move forward in this direction.
"We are not stopping," she said. "We are not going anywhere."
Pastor Stan Seymour had issued a challenge to the El Doarado City Commission Monday night to come up with a solution and to think about what kind of land is available.
"We really need to get a coalition among the cities," Seymour said.
At Monday's meeting, Mayor Mike Fagg had responded that he accepted that challenge.
City Manager Herb Llewellyn said the city was definitely interested in working with BHI.
"The City Commission, as Bill (Young, city commissioner) said, created a path to yes two or three years ago, so had they not wanted to allow BHI to build transitional housing, they would never have changed the rules to allow it," Llewellyn said.
"The mayor specifically tasked me with looking and trying to come up with locations to bring back to them that which would work for transitional housing, so staff is working on it right now," he continued.
He said they have worked with BHI in the past looking at the last proposed location, but working together even more in advance was a good thing.
Gault said she will be contacting city staff and commissioners in the near future to see how they can continue to partner to move forward and have a viable location.
"I am positive with what the future holds," she said. "We're ready to see this through. We are just as determined as ever, but it's got to have buy-in. It's not going to work coming in under any kind of negative feel. We hope to be able to change minds and show the community that it is a good thing, not a negative thing.
"I don't know that there is a perfect solution. Lots of solutions can work. We have, in the past, talked about land and building something, so that is a possibility. We keep our eyes open for land that might be available. We also keep our eyes open for a building that might come on the market that would work for us."
She said they will continue to work with their grant providing rapid rehousing and other funding that provides assistance.
According to the BHI Web site their plan is to provide temporary housing, meals and assistance on finding resources to help displaced men, women and children find housing, work, food and living skills.
The Web site states it is estimated more than 150 Butler County citizens are homeless right now, and the most rapidly increasing group is homeless families with children who are employed but unable to afford housing.
Anyone who wants to volunteer with BHI can call Gault at 316-250-0438. Anyone needing services can contact a case manager at 316-321-1454.