Businesses near City Walk shelter say behavior of its residents is hurting their bottom lines

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 6:18 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Multiple businesses along Mahan Drive are frustrated and concerned about the City Walk Urban Mission Shelter.

It began as an emergency cold night homeless shelter back in December of 2020; people say the area has changed drastically since then.

The shelter’s permit is up for review by the Development Review Committee; the group meets Monday at 9:00 a.m.

City staff’s reports show a sizable increase in calls to Tallahassee Police, with issues of trespassing, littering and loitering near the top of the list. Businesses say that matches their experience.

Cathy Hunt is a cashier at Beer Stop in Mahan Square.

She says delivery drivers have been harassed there, and she’s had to call the police when people have gotten aggressive.

“They harass people in the parking lot, they come into the stores and harass people working there, me included. They’re belligerent; half the time they’re drunk. And we didn’t even know there was a shelter going up,” said Hunt.

Hunt also says she’s been afraid to leave her car when arriving at work in the morning, sharing additional concerns about people urinating and defecating in public stairwells and trash cans near the store.

Another business in Mahan Square also has concerns.

Stewart’s Pharmacy owner Danny Jackson says he’s heard from multiple customers.

“We’ve had loitering, littering,” said Jackson. “For the first time in 20 years, I’ve been burglarized in the last month. That was very upsetting.”

Jackson says he’s not anti-homeless, but he’s concerned about local businesses being put in precarious positions.

“I feel for the people; I know something needs to be done. But when it starts affecting the businesses, something has to be done,” said Jackson.

Across the street, employees at The Lunchbox, or Jenny’s Lunchbox, have also noticed negative changes.

Restaurant owner David Raney says it’s becoming a safety issue.

“Some of our staff arrives at 5:30 in the morning, and it could become a very dangerous situation,” said Raney. “We’ve had property stolen, property damaged.”

He says the increase in aggressive panhandling and loitering has changed the way his business operates.

“Keeping our doors locked until we open in the morning, keeping bathroom doors locked at all times, which has been a real inconvenience, not only for our staff, but for our patrons too. They have to ask for a key every time they go to the bathroom now, because our restrooms were being used for showers, and other things I don’t even want to say,” said Raney.

Raney, and other business owners, hope the shelter is not approved in Monday’s meeting.

“There’s plenty of other places for it to be, and this just isn’t one of them.”

During Monday’s meeting, City Walk employees pushed back on City staff’s report, saying it did not reflect the recent improvements they have added.

“And so because one or two people have trespassed, 50 people are going to be displaced because of your recommendation,” they said.

City Walk has also told WCTV if a resident is caught trespassing on a nearby business’s property, they will no longer be allowed to stay at the shelter.

During the meeting, Renee Miller pushed back on the term “low barrier,” used by some to describe the shelter.

She told City staff that in the application, nothing that was submitted was low-barrier; when City Walk decided to no longer be a cold night shelter, they decided to not take anyone that does not fit their guidelines or culture.

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