Despite re-bidding the project, city is confident in opening homeless shelter by fall ’24

Open Doors had operated a shelter out of the old Red Front Supermarket building from fall 2020 until 2022. The organization has returned to its model of operating out of various houses of worship during the cold months until the city opens a permanent shelter. (File photo)

By Sukainah Abid, contributor 

City officials working on the upcoming Homeless Services Center decided to restart the bidding for the construction contractor, which will delay the shelter’s planned opening to the second half of 2024 instead of this fall. 

After the bid period closed June 15, the city reviewed the construction bids and ultimately decided to restart the process. 

Michael Parks, the city’s director of communications, said one of the driving factors in the decision was the city’s initial “aggressive timeline” for completion. Having a fall 2023 opening goal limited the contractors who placed a bid during the initial May-June period. 

“There was no one who was going to be able to hit that timeline of getting it done as early as we were hoping to, to provide people a place to go before this upcoming thermal season,” said Parks. 

He added that if the timeline were to be extended, additional firms might be interested in bidding on the project, so the city will receive bids until Aug. 3. An announcement of the contractor is expected around two weeks after that. 

The Homeless Services Center complex planned for North Main Street at the former site of the Presbytery of Shenandoah will include a year-round low-barrier shelter that allows people to stay regardless of their criminal history and/or sobriety, while other shelters have stricter regulations. The planned complex will also have other services to help people find permanent housing and employment. The city council approved using $5 million of the city’s more than $23 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Parks said another factor in the decision was knowing that the local organization Open Doors could provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness for another thermal season. Open Doors works with houses of worship in the area to provide overnight shelters during the cold months. 

“The city deeply appreciates Open Doors, the faith community, and other community partners for stepping in to once again shelter adults experiencing homelessness from the cold in the upcoming winter,” wrote Parks in a press release. 

Nate Riddle, Open Doors’ executive director, said the organization had already prepared to operate through another thermal season, which lasts from November through April. Of the 21 weeks that Open Doors will operate a shelter this winter and early spring, 14 are already booked. 

“We were anticipating and are prepared for another thermal season, and we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful that the facility will open up in October 2024,  and we’ll be able to avoid another thermal season,” Riddle said. He also added that should the project be further delayed, Open Doors is prepared to operate through the 2024-2025 thermal season as well. 

However, Riddle says that he is also looking forward to the city shelter opening because it will provide an option any night during the year for those facing homelessness, instead of only a 5-6 month window in which shelters are available. 

Parks said the city is committed to its October 2024 deadline to avoid another year where shelter spaces are only open during the colder months.

“The project team will continue to work with a selected contractor to achieve completion as quickly as possible and to ensure the facility is open in fall 2024,” he said. 

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