Panel favors zoning change for homeless shelter

Port commission’s recommendation would clear way for temporary housing facility on city’s south side
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Plan Commission last week recommended that the city change its zoning code to allow a homeless shelter to be built on the city’s south side.

The proposed change would allow an emergency homeless shelter serving no more than 20 people to be built in areas zoned B-2, or local service center business districts.

The change was requested by Family Promise of Ozaukee County, which is working to create a shelter in a former day care at the corner of Sunset Road and Highway LL.

“There is no listing for this in the zoning code,” Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development, said, adding that if a use isn’t specifically allowed, it is considered prohibited.

Paul Bissett of Family Promise told the commission that the shelter is not a drop-in facility but a program aimed at helping people get back on their feet.

“The goal of our program is to take people who have become temporarily homeless and get them into housing,” he said.

While Family Promise has been successful operating a shelter using local churches, the pandemic changed all that, he said. Churches closed and didn’t allow people to come in, so Family Promise has been renting 12 rooms at a Mequon hotel for its clients.

“It is not a viable, long-term solution,” Bissett said, noting it has cost the agency $14,000 a month.

Family Promise has received a $2.3 million community development block grant coronavirus program to acquire a building, renovate it and operate the shelter for one year.

The facility will have eight rooms, four for families with children, two for women and two for men, as well as offices, meeting rooms and a large gathering room, Bissett  said, adding the shelter will be staffed 24/7.

Sex offenders, people with open criminal cases and those convicted of harming children or violence aren’t served by the agency, he added.

“We know how to refer people we do not serve,” Bissett said.

The average stay at the shelter is 47 days, he said.

Commission member Kyle Knop asked why the ordinance would only allow 20 people to be housed in a shelter.

“Why tie it to a number that could change?” he asked. “Is there a right-size number? Is 20 the number?”

Bissett said Family Promise looked at the number of people it has served since coming into the county in 2015 and while it has been serving more than 20 people, officials believe that the limit will allow them to help people get on their feet quicker.

“We need to make it manageable,” he said. “We’re using our experience and our recent numbers to justify that.”

Officials praised the agency for its work before unanimously recommending the zoning change. 

“I see no reason not to proceed,” commission member Tony Matera said.

The matter will now go to the Common Council for approval.


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