As residents of Bonita Springs, we all care about our community, and are concerned about the proposal by St Matthews House of East Naples to build a 120 bed shelter, 30 unit, very low-income, long-term, transitional housing complex and soup kitchen for the chronically homeless on Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs.
The residential and business communities surrounding St Matthews House in E. Naples are completely different in character than the proposed site in Bonita Springs. The Naples location is composed of lesser quality residences, low-income housing, bail bonds shops, criminal defense attornies, pawn shops and tattoo parlors, providing services compatible with the E. Naples neighborhood. The proposed site in Bonita Springs is entirely dissimilar.
Attracting a large population of troubled individuals to one location is certain to cause problems in a community that does not have it's own police department. The impact is not evidenced, of course, within the four walls of the shelter - but upon the community in which the shelter resides.
Rezoning land in the middle of two existing business parks for this proposed use makes no sense. Many of the existing businesses in these two abutting parks, which now pay $160,000 annually in taxes, have promised an exodus from the area, if this is approved. What will that cost taxpayers? Causeway Lumber, who owns the site, paid $37,500 in taxes in 2010 alone when closed. $75,000 a year while operating. St Matthews House will pay ZERO. Forever! Removing this large 8.9 acre parcel from the tax base means citizens will need to make up the balance. Is any of this good planning?
Some states advise realtors to disclose the nearby location of a homeless shelter, when they sell a property. A look at residential property surrounding the E, Naples shelter supports the fact that there is a ceiling on property value in that area. A study shows that only homeless shelters are viewed as negatively as sexually explicit businesses by property appraisers.
Thus far, city officials have relied solely on the proponent for the stated need. No independent study has been undertaken. Yet, the Lee County point-in-time homeless count now is less than half of what it was in 2007. All using the far more liberal 2011 definition of homelessness - which includes those at risk of becoming homeless. Community Police officials in Bonita Springs have told members of Concerned Citizens of Bonita that there are less than 5 homeless encampments within city limits. News reports place the number near 62 in Naples. Something doesn't add up here. It's time for city leaders to get involved and do the independent study!
St Matthews House says that they will not have a soup kitchen "initially" in Bonita Springs. But, feeding the hungry is an integral part of their mission, so it WILL come. Some Collier Commissioners feel that the existence of the soup kitchen in Naples is directly linked to why there are so many homeless camps, as the chronically homeless eat there and take showers during the day at St Matthews House. Studies agree - the existence of a soup kitchen enables homeless camps.
The Collier Commission and St Matthews House have been at loggerheads for years over two issues: 1. The permissive attitude of St Matthews House towards housing illegal aliens and... 2. The relationship between their soup kitchen and creating a destination for the homeless in Naples. These issues are well documented in the press and need to be studied by Bonita Springs officials.
We the undersigned are citizens who care about our community, and urge the City Council of Bonita Springs to deny the rezoning requests made by the St. Matthew's House of Naples. Our concerns are valid and require judicious research on behalf of the Council Members.
Our primary concern lies in the fact that the council has not attempted to do a needs based analysis by an independent entity, as to whether the proposed shelter is even something that our community would benefit from (which we believe that we don't). Without unbiased needs analysis, it would seem that the council will not have proper information to impartially and unemotionally review this proposal.
We do not foresee that adding a homeless shelter to our community will do anything, but decrease home values, increase crime, reduce the number of businesses who want to make Bonita their home (add residents, too!), and increase the burden on our small community where we rent our law enforcement from the county.
Our community is in need, it is in need of more businesses and residents who have jobs, and provide a tax base for the salaries of both the city and county public employees. Will St. Matthew's house add to our tax base? We think not, but they will detract from the community by placing themselves near one of the busiest roads in our area. Bonita Beach Road is a beach access road. Hence, tourists, we depend on our community putting it's best face forward to those who provide for this community.
Please, as your constituents, we urge you to investigate this issue further. We are confident that upon further investigation, that your findings will lead you to the fact that the proposed St. Matthew's House is the wrong choice for Bonita Springs.
Thank you for your time on this very important matter.
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