Camillus House set to move out, but concerns linger behind
By Jacquelyn Weiner
The first residents of Camillus House's new facility for the homeless are to move in by July, but what has Miami commissioners' attention is the fate of its current site.
When commissioners approved $10 million in Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency funds toward the shelter's new health-district site, it was with the caveat that the current Allapattah facility be promptly razed.
Camillus House marketing Vice President Sam Gil said the shelter at 726 NE First Ave. must be demolished within 120 days after a certificate of occupancy is obtained for its new property — a rule the Community Redevelopment Agency imposed in putting money toward the project.
Yet the idea of using the site for another shelter facility has already begun circulating, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said, something he aims to quash.
"What we need to be guardful of and careful about," he said at a December commission meeting: "There are… other [elected officials] that have intentions of reintroducing another facility there. And that is not why we spent $10 million. We didn't spend the $10 million to keep another facility open and call it something different."
Construction of the new $84 million Camillus House facility at Northwest Seventh Avenue between 15th and 17th streets in Miami's health district has been underway since May 2010, with some parts begun earlier.
Area leaders had been pushing for the relocated, larger complex since 1984, saying development of the northern section of downtown Miami hinged on departure of the homeless population that Camillus House aids.
Dr. Paul Ahr, president and CEO of Camillus House, said the first part of the planned seven-building complex, Shepherd's Court, is to open in July.
It's to provide permanent housing for 80 chronically homeless, Dr. Ahr said.
A five-story garage nearing completion is to open in tandem.
The third part currently under construction, an eight-story building housing offices and the main residential building for participants in Camillus House programs, is expected to open in April 2012, he said.
Work on the other four buildings has yet to begin.
Among the four planned is a three-story building containing the complex's kitchen and dining room. It's intended to be built in the same phase as the under-construction facilities, but Camillus House is still looking for bank financing to begin work.
"It's a little bit of a tricky issue," Dr. Ahr said, because if construction is delayed much longer, the 80 to 100 people living in the main residential building would have no dining room or kitchen.
Once financing is secured, he said, the aim is to complete the fourth building in line with the main residence.
Other buildings to be completed in phase two include another office building, an overnight shelter/medical center and a chapel paid for by the local Catholic community.
Financing sources for the new facility include $30 million in private pledges — out of a $40 million goal — the Community Redevelopment Agency's $10 million, $22.4 million from the state, $5.9 million in federal funds and $4.4 million from Miami-Dade County.
Dr. Ahr said the goal is to be out of the agency's Allapattah site and operating in its new location by summer 2012.
"Our intent is to essentially vacate the building and demolish it," he said, as per agreement with the redevelopment agency. "We're moving and we're taking everything that we have with us."
He added that as part of the agreement, the redevelopment agency might purchase the land.
Dr. Ahr said he, like Commissioner Sarnoff, has heard talk at the county level of using the Allapattah facility as a residential complex for young, at-risk females.
The project, Mama Hattie's House, is planned by area nonprofit Girl Power! as "a social, educational and residential complex that will provide a safe and stable environment for at-risk girls 24 hours a day," according to the group's website.
Reminding fellow commissioners that the redevelopment agency's $10 million was intended to eliminate any shelter-type facilities from the area, Mr. Sarnoff asked that they "not indulge the conversation of "Oh yeah, that'd be a great idea.' Because it wouldn't be."
"Just be careful," he said, "that we don't in haste or in trying to get along reintroduce another problem under a different name."
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