A public-health issue or a pre-Haven skirmish?

The City lost its first-round skirmish with an Eastside shelter dedicated to the homeless and impoverished yesterday when Judge Toni Arteaga declined to force Living Stones Ministries to close its doors.

The City's move followed a DART inspection March 16. City Attorney Savita Rai claimed inspectors found inch-long bedbugs, exposed wires, and inadequate sanitary facilities, but Pastor Jimmy M. Spicer refused to boot his residents, who pay $65/week (as able; only about a third actually do, he said) to stay at Living Stones, although they did stop preparing fresh food in the shelter's spacious kitchen as ordered.

Late yesterday, the Judge ordered Spicer to install smoke alarms and additional fire extinguishers in order to stay open through the weekend. Spicer called a few minutes ago to say they passed today's inspections "with flying colors," which means the next date with Rai and Co. is Monday at the Courthouse. They are organizing a show of support from homeless citizens, and reaching out to local news media to cover the hearing.

Living Stones is not zoned for its function and occupancy -- a fact Spicer says the City has only now noticed, although Spicer has been in operation for 17 years -- and he hopes to ask the Court for enough time (perhaps three to six months) to correct that issue, as well as any shortcomings in the kitchen and bathroom facilities.

The QueQue toured Living Stones bunkhouse Thursday evening, and found a clean and spacious kitchen, neatly organized bunks with belongings stored underneath them (and in provided lockers). While it's true that one refrigerator was empty and out of order, at least four others and two freezers appeared to be working. Some 34 bunks fill the men's dorm room and living area, which also contains a few rows of pews oriented toward a large flat-screen TV. The two shower stalls were of the painted concrete variety familiar to prisoners and former summer-campers. In the separate women's dorm room, a resident a resident told the QueQue she moved into Living Stones four months' earlier after her allotted time at the Salvation Army shelter was up. She felt safe, she said, and liked her fellow roommates. According to Spicer, the average residency at Living Stones is 18 months, and he estimated 37 residents were onsite this week.

A gentleman from the Dallas-Fort Worth area said he loves the facility, and he worries that COSA will engage in homeless roundups once Haven for Hope, the City's integrated-services campus, opens its doors -- which he alleges happened in DFW after the Bridge homeless campus opened.

Those concerns are fueled both by Haven's long-ago stated intention to virtually monopolize local homeless services, and by news that Corazon Ministries, which is based out of Travis Park church downtown, would be ceasing much of its outreach to the homeless after April 2, including its feeding program, which serves as many as 180 meals per day for lunch. The organization's current City grant expires the first week of April, and there won't be another -- a development that could strain other food-and-clothing initiatives such as Church Under the Bridge, especially between now and the final opening of Haven. Calls to Haven have not yet been returned.

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