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City of Tallahassee staff denies City Walk's homeless shelter permit

Posted at 1:19 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 18:17:57-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The City of Tallahassee staff determined the future of the City Walk Urban Shelter's homeless site on Mahan Drive on Monday, denying City Walk’s permit request to operate as a shelter at the Mahan Road location with unanimous support.

Roughly 50 people spoke at the Tallahassee Development Review Committee meeting on Monday, including people who have stayed at the shelter, business owners, people living nearby, and City Walk supporters.

Kelsey Lang is one of the many people currently housed by City Walk.

"They've helped a lot. Nobody else wants to help anybody but them," she said.

However, Jeremy Shaw said the shelter has caused tension in what was once a tight knit community.

"City Walk probably would be better somewhere else," he said. "The negative it made in the beginning will make the handshake very difficult for the residents nearby."

The owners of the shelter, Pastor Renee and Tony Miller also spoke at the meeting.

“The city set us up for this. They gave us the cots,” said Tony Miller.

Miller even claimed the city bused in people who were kicked out of the Kearney Center, but once they stopped working with the city, neighborhood issues slowed down.

“We’re asking you to relocate that shelter or shut it down immediately for the safety of a well-established neighborhood," one opponent of the shelter said.

Public comment took nearly 3 hours to get through. Despite pleas from supporters, city staff followed recommendations to not issue a permit to open as a permanent shelter. The 6-person committee is made up of city workers, not elected officials.

City staff members say the shelter did not meet all of the required criteria for the permit-- including security, and proof that the shelter wouldn't create a "private nuisance" for nearby businesses and families.

"I'm going to continue to fight for my congregation. That's my duty. I took a vow when I was ordained that I would take care of the flock that God gave me. This is my flock and I don't take that lightly," Pastor Miller said in response to the determination.

Despite the denial, Pastor Renee Miller says her doors will remain open .

"They're absolutely not going to have to sleep outside tonight. We're going to continue to shelter people as we have throughout the process and we'll continue to be our religious organization there," she said.

Miller also plans to appeal the decision.

"There's also the equal terms that we're guaranteed under federal protections that you have to treat all organizations equally. That has not been happening in Tallahassee and it's something our legal team is working on," she added.

Once the appeal is in motion, it'll go before the Planning Commission, followed by the Department of Administrative Hearings for a recommended order. The final decision, however, returns to the Planning Commission.

Even if it shuts down eventually, Miller says the shelter will continue to operate as a church and a place for the homeless to get food and a shower.

During Wednesday's Tallahassee City Commission meeting, supporters of the shelter say they'll demand the city provide a "rapid solution to the housing."

City Walk Urban Mission issued the following statement on the Development Review Committee's denial in the change of use at 1709 Mahan Drive:

"We, the church body, pastors, directors, and supporters, respectfully disagree with the City's decision to deny our change of use application. We intend to continue to serve our clients and church members and follow through with the legal appeal process."