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New safety restrictions could shut down some homeless shelters
The extreme cold last week kept shelters in our area very busy.
Now the Ft. Walton Beach City Council is looking at passing regulations to make those shelters safer.
But as Channel Three's Rob Brown reports, some people in the community worry the regulations would do more harm than good for the people looking to stay warm.
An extension to a current city ordinance brought up by the Ft. Walton Beach City Council Tuesday evening could force cold-weather shelters in the city to require a license to operate. Some in the community wonder if that might leave the less fortunate out in the cold.
The ordinance would require all churches acting as shelters to meet fire and safety codes.
They would also lay out plans for where those staying at the shelter can sleep.
Some churches might be required to make upgrades to meet those codes.
Ft. Walton Beach city administrators say the ordinance is a result of complaints from citizens, and warnings of safety violations from fire marshals.
They say their goal isn't to close the shelters, only to make them safer.
Some who help run the shelters, like Father Mark Fitzhugh of St. Simon's on the Sound, say they're happy to work with the city.
Mark Fitzhugh "My staff and this congregation is committed to partnering with the city and any individuals that seriously want to go to work on these issues."
But the focus, he says, should be eradicating homelessness, not regulating those who are.
Mark Fitzhugh "I'm concerned that the conversation stays on task, and that is to address homelessness, and not enter any type of political arena or side interests that may have other motivations."
Some people say the ordinance will help protect the city from possible lawsuits in case of an emergency, but that the city should do more to motivate the homeless.
Valerie Wenzel "Our feeling is that if these same groups that are truly working to make a positive change would start treating the vagrants like adults, instead of lost children...BUTT TO."
Valerie Wenzel "I think that you would see the entire community get behind that."
The council will meet again January 28th to vote on the ordinance. In Ft. Walton Beach, Rob Brown, Channel Three News.