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Proposed Butler County homeless shelter voted down

By Jim Grawe
Published On: Apr 07 2014 10:37:38 PM CDT
Updated On: May 06 2014 03:00:34 PM CDT
EL DORADO, Kan. -

Commissioners voted down an initiative to operate a homeless shelter out of an old Motel in Butler County last night in a 3-2 vote.

The vote rejected a special use permit that would designate the Blue Spruce Motel as a transitional housing shelter.

The measure needed a supermajority of at least 4 votes to pass.

The Butler County Homeless Initiative hoped to buy the motel and make the change to house up to 30 men, women and children for up to four months. They say they hoped to do this while helping them to find work and permanent homes.

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The Butler County Mayor and Commissioners discussed the zoning and property use of the Blue Spruce Motel in El Dorado, Monday night.

Commissioners have decided in a public meeting to postpone a decision. City leaders will resume discussion on the issue in two weeks.

They will determine if the Butler Homeless Initiative can operate a homeless shelter at the Motel.

The vote Monday was not determining if the shelter can be opened, it was solely deciding if a special Use Permit will be issues on the property.

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Tony Soto says an old room at the Blue Spruce Motel looks like the Ritz Carlton to him.

"I lost my job about February 26th--terminated because I was ill," Soto says.

Since then, he's been living outdoors in the cold.  Soto could stay at the motel if a local homeless advocacy organization is allowed to turn the place into a shelter.

"You have people who don't have any place to go," Butler Homeless Initiative's Melody Gault says.  "They're not productive citizens.  They're not paying taxes.  I think we need to take care of our own."

There are an estimated 150 homeless people in the El Dorado area.  The shelter would house up to 30 men, women and children for up to four months, while helping them find work and permanent homes.  But, there's resistance.

The motel is a few miles out in the country and across the highway from the maximum security prison, though there are some houses nearby.

"We're isolated out here, and that's not safe for us, and it's not safe for the homeless either," neighbor Myrna Byfield says.

Byfield and other nearby property owners say the shelter would stick the homeless too far out in the country and right in their backyard.  They're concerned about thefts and registered sex offenders.

Meanwhile, supporters point out that other charities have already been putting up homeless people at the motel for short periods with no problems.  If it became a shelter, rules for residents would be much stricter--like no alcohol or guns.  Residents would also have to pass background checks, and be required to make progress toward becoming self-sufficient.

Soto says that's fine with him.  He just wants to get off the street and become a productive citizen again.

"This will help people who do want to to get on their feet," Soto says.  "The community will find out there are people worth helping."

The organization plans to buy a van to shuttle residents back and forth to town.

The El Dorado City Commission is expected to decide on rezoning the property later this month.

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