Plans for new Camillus House facility on hold
By Suzy Valentine
Camillus House is months from making a deal with the University of Miami on a land swap that could kick-start plans for a $30 million center for the homeless, its president says.
The nonprofit agency has been thwarted for 21 years in bids to leave a downtown site that businesses complain limits neighborhood upgrades.
Camillus House has a 50-year lease on more than 5 acres between Northwest 15th and 17th streets on Northwest Seventh Avenue where plans to build a shelter were stalled in the latest chapter of the impasse with Miami commissioners, who repeatedly have denied Camillus permission to build. The university has an adjacent property on Northwest Seventh Avenue between 17th and 20th streets.
"Our stance is that we haven't found a deal which is acceptable to all parties yet," said Paul Ahr, Camillus president. "We are studying the feasibility of building using the UM property plus some state land to build a scaled-down facility but need community support."
Miami Commissioner Tomas Regalado said Tuesday the plan was news to him, though moving the center two blocks north won't affect the city's stance.
"The issue of Camillus House has never been so much about where it is," said Mr. Regalado, "as it has been about containment of patients and residents. It remains a problem for the residents of Allapattah and Overtown."
The land between Northwest Seventh Avenue and I-95 is divided into three plots, Dr. Ahr said. One-third belongs to the university. Camillus House has a lease on part of a second state-owned plot. A third is used for parking and billboards. The Florida Department of Transportation has interests in some of the land - the site of a former rail yard.
An outcome should be determined within three months, Dr. Ahr said, after which fundraising can begin.
"We plan to build a new facility on either of those sites," he said, "and we expect to have an agreement in place to proceed by mid-September to October. A capital campaign should begin in the fall. Skepticism remains, however, because this center has been discussed since 1984. My feeling is, let's get an agreement and then we can go forward and meet on the design aspects."
The new site would differ from others run by Camillus, which was founded by the Roman Catholic order Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd, Dr. Ahr said.
"This won't be like the shelter on Northeast First Avenue," he said. "We plan to work with the community to build an acceptable facility more like a homeless assistance center with a limited feeding program."
Plans for the new site involve a doubling in size to accommodate up to 152 people. Capacity now is 68.
Meanwhile, Camillus House is working to make the existing shelter, at 726 NE First Ave., less intimidating. Steps include installing stadium-style lighting funded by $200,000 pledged or raised by the Friends of Camillus House.
"We plan to install ballpark lighting by Labor Day if we get the permits," Dr. Ahr said. "Some individuals were doing drug deals on the property under the cover of darkness. This initiative should stop them congregating there."