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Jeff Dezort/Staff

House of Hope's executive director Rhonda Matthews addressed the Harrison City Council Thursday night proposing a program that would allow a limited number of homeless clients to use part of the city-owned property as a place where they can spend a night in their vehicles.

The Harrison City Council committees met Thursday night and one of the subjects for discussion was a proposal from House of Hope's executive director Rhonda Matthews.

The non-profit organization assists homeless, near homeless and jobless individuals meet their basic needs while they seek employment and housing. Matthews said the board of directors would like to add to services House of Hope provides by allowing safe parking for clients at the property

Matthews asked the city council to grant permission to begin and assess the merits of the program.

Matthews outlined the House of Hope's services that have increased since being founded in 2012. It leases the property at 600 East Stephenson Avenue from the city. It operates on donations.

Matthews emphasized that House of Hope is not an enabler. Clients who utilize services undergo drug testing and rehabilitation if needed and are followed through the program by a case manager. Clients must follow strict rules or services are denied, or they must pay a small fee, $3 in the case of meals. Those who show accountability are provided free meals, access to showers and laundry facilities.

The concept of safe parking was derived from a situation where people began parking in the parking lot overnight without permission.

Seeing this is a need, to keep them from parking in other places in town, Matthews said those people who want to park there would have to undergo the same intake process as other clients. Their vehicle would have to be drivable so that it can leave the property in the morning. She said the parking area would be set up in a lighted designated area and there is already security on the premises. Users can't set up tents, hang up laundry and can't put out their trash there. Each permitted vehicle would have to display a placard showing permission for specified days of the week. It would be a daily thing, Matthews said.

A portable toilet will be available. The parking area would not be a homeless camp. The program would prevent that from happening, Matthews emphasized.

Matthews said the area would be large enough for four to six spaces. The system would allow police to know who is allowed to be parked there.

Mayor Jerry Jackson said city officials met recently with several similar public service organizations in town and were pleased to find everyone is "on the same page." Police Chief Chris Graddy said he was relieved to learn that these agencies are not enablers and are willingly working with the department to cut down on abuse. Public Works director Wade Phillips said it should be the council's decision on how the property is used.

Council members questioned what effect the program would have on neighboring businesses. Matthews said that House of Hope tries to provide clients with what they need at the facility, but has no control over what they do after they leave.

Council member Bill Boswell said he has some positive feelings about the program, but also has some reservations. He suggested the program be allowed to have a trial run. The city doesn't know how Safe Parking will work and neither does House of Hope, he said.

Council member Wayne Cone motioned that the proposal go before the full council at its next regular meeting for further consideration. The rest of the council members agreed.

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