Town of Payson council meeting July 23, 2020 homeless warming center funding

Morrissey reads about his request for the town to fund the Payson Homeless and Homeless Veteran’s Initiative at the July 23 Payson council meeting. The council voted to table the discussion until it could gather more information on town non-profit spending and the positives and negatives of last year’s warming center experiment.

Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey’s attempt to continue town funding of a homeless warming shelter faced a rebuff from fellow council members last week.

In a 5 to 2 vote at the July 23 meeting, the council tabled the conversation on whether to help fund the program, saying they needed more time to get questions answered.

Last winter, Morrissey and volunteers with the Payson Homeless and Homeless Veterans Initiative overcame objections from community members to open a warming center at Mt. Cross Lutheran Church. The homeless received a hot meal, shower and a place to sleep. Each day, however, they had to leave as the warming center could not provide shelter services.

Morrissey and the Initiative sought to continue town funding this year for insurance and other costs to the tune of $3,768.

The request faced opposition before the council even heard the agenda item.

Three residents took advantage of the reinstated public comments to say they opposed the town funding the homeless warming center. Staff read their comments, which were submitted earlier.

Jeff Robbins said he had concerns the center would spawn a COVID-19 outbreak.

“Homeless facilities can rapidly become the epicenters of new (coronavirus) outbreaks that will rapidly spread throughout the community,” he said.

He wondered if the Initiative had updated the accommodations to address social distancing and other CDC recommendations.

Kim Chittick said she didn’t want the town to provide a “hand out” rather than a “hand up.” She asked what additional services the town would find to help the homeless with long-term solutions, such as medical care, a job and housing.

Stan Garner said he had concerns about liability.

“There is no insurance clause with minimum liability and property damage limits,” he said.

Several council members also expressed concern.

Vice Mayor Janell Sterner said she wanted more information from the Initiative “to hear the positives and negatives” of the effort before investing again. She realizes the town “is not spending money” because of the pandemic and at the same time “there are so many different organizations that need funding.” She worried supporting the Initiative would open the funding flood gates.

She moved to table the item.

Council member Suzy Tubbs-Avakian agreed and seconded the motion.

Council member Barbara Underwood agreed with Sterner and suggested a work study “on what we want to give other non-profits and look at them as a whole.”

Council member Jim Ferris, who voted with Morrissey to not table the discussion, had many questions about the deal.

“My concern is, did the town fund this previously?” he asked. “The other thing it said in here, it would only be used with persons with a local residence. How do we determine who is a resident of Payson?”

He suggested looking at the paperwork the Initiative filed “to get a better understanding of the organization.”

Morrissey was “mystified” at the council’s reaction.

“I want everybody to remember this — we are dealing with human beings and with veterans with PTSD, with children living in the forest in the cold. How can anyone of this body lay our heads on our pillows at night?” he said. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. I honestly can’t.”

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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