Springfield commissioners take aggressive stance to eliminate negative impact of homeless shelters



Mayor Ralph Hammond

SPRINGFIELD — City commissioners have approved a six-month moratorium restricting homeless shelters from opening within city limits.

During those six months, commissioners will examine where and under what conditions shelters could open within the city. Areas along the Tram Road corridor — an industrial area — have been discussed during previous meetings.

“It’s a bigger picture than saying we don’t want a rescue mission,” Mayor Ralph Hammond said Thursday. “We need to find an appropriate area for them.”

City Attorney Kevin Obos said commissioners could not outright refuse any establishment within city limits but could set guidelines.

The vote to approve the moratorium came Monday, four months after a circuit court sided with the city against the expansion of a shelter for battered women and children.

Springfield’s decision to deny a development order for the expansion of Bethel Village Home for Women and Children was supported by Judge Michael Overstreet. The court ruling said the expansion constituted “a threat to the general health, welfare or safety of the city.”

The city’s concern was all of the women from the downtown Panama City Rescue Mission would be housed at Bethel Village, changing the nature of the facility to a crisis center and affect the area.

“We don’t want to go through that battle again,” Hammond said. “We want to designate where we want them to be versus them moving into a residential area and going through a two-year legal battle again.”

Hammond said he was unsure how much money the city spent on legal fees.

“We’re also looking at … what happens to the ladies when they leave the program. Currently they go on the street,” Hammond said, “and that turns to the local communities trying to take care of them.”

Hammond said Springfield’s decision to set a moratorium and discuss regulation of homeless shelters could spread to other municipalities.

“This way we have a guideline and they can take it or leave it,” Hammond said.