Plans underway for homeless shelter in Seymour

A local businessman has plans to help the growing number of homeless people in Seymour.

Andy Royalty, owner of Royalty Roofing, has filed an application with the city’s planning and zoning department for a land use variance for a homeless shelter on the city’s east side.

The property at 326 Dupont Drive is owned by Royalty and is located near the Jackson County Learning Center and the site of the future county work release center. Its present zoning classification is C-3 (commercial highway business).

There is a 5,000-square-foot vacant building on the property, which Royalty built last year as a spec building. If approved, that building will become the first phase of the project, Royalty said.

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The city’s plan commission plans to conduct a special public hearing on the matter at 5 p.m. Monday, and it’s listed on the agenda for the board of zoning appeals at 7 p.m. Aug. 27.

Both meetings are in council chambers at city hall and are open to the public. 

The idea for the homeless shelter originated with Deacon John Cord with St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour and Karen Browning, who helped start the Jackson County Cold Night Out Shelter last winter. Browning also serves as outreach minister of Double Down Outreach.

"John came to me and was looking for a lot to build on," Royalty said. "The more I learned about the homeless, I knew this was something that needs to happen here. My eyes have really been opened to the needs we have locally."

Cord said his calling to help those in crisis goes back to the jail ministry he has been involved with the last six years at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown and St. Ambrose’s participation in Cold Night Out.

"That was a very positive experience for us," he said. "We had a group that was very involved, and we decided to join together to look at what can be more substantial than housing people at different churches."

After many discussions, the group kept coming back to the need for a full-time emergency shelter, so the group researched different shelters and programs in different communities, including Good Samaritan Ministry in Holland, Michigan.

"They have an outstanding program there, and they have agreed to mentor us," Cord said.

The idea is to have something in place before November to get people off the streets before the cold weather sets in, Royalty said.

"Let’s do what we can do right now," he said.

A second phase would double the size of the building, adding a training/education center, and a third phase would add a manufacturing workshop to help sustain the shelter.

Royalty said the education provided will be in basic life skills, and the workshop will supply job training and provide income to people to help them save money.

"This is not just a homeless shelter," Royalty said. "We want to give people the tools they need to get back on their feet to become productive members of society. This is not just enabling people to stay in poverty."

That’s where the name of the project, Jackson County Toolbox, started.

"We want to provide the tools to change people’s lives," Cord said.

One of the biggest components will be the navigational services offered at the shelter. Those services will help determine where a person is and how they can get out of crisis.

"We can guide them to the services they need," Cord said. "The ultimate goal is to get them out of the emergency shelter by helping them find employment and permanent housing."

But even then, Cord said it’s important to offer followup services and to make sure they aren’t overlapping services. 

Much of the details about the facility, including how many people it will be able to house, will depend on fundraising, Royalty said.

Cord estimates it will cost around $1 million to build the shelter and $500,000 to $600,000 a year to operate. The facility would have full-time and volunteer staff, he said.

The facility will be made up of apartments and initially could house nearly 50 men and women in separate areas. The shelter’s focus will be helping Jackson County residents in crisis.

Fundraising will include creating an endowment fund with the Community Foundation of Jackson County for long-term operational costs and raising the money for construction.

Cord said there are 12 to 15 local churches on board working to make the shelter happen.

"This is truly a community-based project," he said.

Royalty said he couldn’t sit around any longer waiting for someone else to do something about the homeless in Jackson County.

"It’s hard to turn a blind eye when you can help," he said. "I think it’s almost a sin or criminal if you don’t try to make a difference."

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What: Public hearing on an application from Andy Royalty to build a homeless shelter at 326 Dupont Drive in Seymour

Where: Council chambers, Seymour City Hall, 301-309 N. Chestnut St.

When: 5 p.m. Monday and 7 p.m. Aug. 27