Noland Health Services remains poised to donate an 85-bed nursing home to the city of Anniston for use as a homeless shelter, the company indicated in a statement Wednesday.
“As a not for profit organization, it is our desire to give back to the community through the donation of the Leighton Avenue property,” Noland attorney Barbara Estep wrote in an emailed statement to The Anniston Star.
A trio of local nonprofits — the United Way, the Right Place and Interfaith Ministries — hope to use the former Beckwood Manor nursing home on Leighton Avenue as a homeless shelter, with an eye toward providing mental health and job-training services to get clients back on their feet.
The nursing home building now belongs to Noland Health, a Birmingham-based nonprofit health care company that runs eight senior living centers in cities across the state. Noland is preparing for a move into a new building near Regional Medical Center.
City officials announced last month that Noland had agreed to donate the former Beckwood building, complete with furniture and other equipment, to the city. City officials in turn hoped to lease it to the coalition of local nonprofits, which recently received a $300,000 grant to open a 45-bed shelter in town.
The plan ran into a snag Tuesday. The council convened a public hearing to discuss the proposed shelter gift. City officials said the hearing was required not by any city ordinance, but as a condition of a bond that Noland issued through a Pell City government organization when it acquired the Leighton Avenue facility.
The Tuesday hearing drew a standing-room-only crowd, about 80 people. Most of those who spoke about the proposed shelter spoke against it.
Neighbors of the proposed shelter asked whether it would increase panhandling on Leighton Avenue, whether it would lead to an increase in pedestrian crossings of busy Quintard Avenue and whether the deal genuinely came with no strings attached. Not among the speakers was anyone from United Way, Interfaith or the Right Place, the three agencies that plan to open the shelter.
“In hindsight, we have lots of regrets,” said Shannon Jenkins, director of the United Way of East Alabama. He said officials of the agencies watched the proceedings online but didn’t fully understand the crucial nature of the hearing.
Council members later said shelter proponents need to bring answers to local residents’ questions before the council can bring the matter to a vote.
“I want to see the nonprofits educate the public,” said Councilwoman Mille Harris. “I want to see the fears of the people in the community alleviated.”
Jenkins, the United Way director, said Wednesday that Noland, as owners of the Leighton Avenue facility, did renovations that included work on air conditioning, fire and security systems — something that should prevent the city or the nonprofits from having to do extensive upgrades to the building.
“It is move-in ready,” Jenkins said. “There are patients in there right now.”
Asked about the Quintard Avenue issue, Jenkins noted that there’s a public transit stop on Leighton not far from the proposed homeless shelter. Homeless residents already regularly cross that street, Jenkins said.
The $300,000 state grant currently held by the three nonprofits is enough to sustain the shelter for a year, Jenkins said. And he said it’s a grant that can be renewed on a year-by-year basis. Asked how long the nonprofits had to purchase a shelter, Jenkins said the group has to spend the money by mid-2021.
Harris, the councilwoman, said she’d like to see the group bring more information about proposed mental health and job training at the facility, as well as a security plan.
“I’m not sure what the facility’s going to do to ensure that these folks do not pose a risk to the neighborhood,” she said.
At least one council member said he’s unlikely to be convinced as long as the proposed shelter is in his ward. Ward 3 Councilman Ben Little said the nonprofits created the shelter plan without consulting him, even though it’s in the area he represents.
“I’m somewhat disappointed in Noland themselves, and I’m really upset with the United Way, the Right Place and Interfaith Ministries.”
Little said the groups are asking the city to move forward with a plan council members haven’t had time to evaluate.
“We haven’t had a walkthrough of that building,” he said. “We haven’t received anything in writing saying that Noland wants to give us the property.”
Mayor Jack Draper Tuesday night said the issue could come before the council again as early as Feb. 18.