Bedford Town Council vote could make or break homeless shelter

BEDFORD (WSLS 10) - On Tuesday night, Bedford leaders are expected to make a vote that could make or break a homeless shelter.

Right now, the Grace House Community Church Homeless Shelter is zoned as a hotel.

The Bedford Town Council is considering an official homeless shelter zoning ordinance to correct this; however, it may not pass.

Money at the Grace House Community Church Homeless Shelter may get tight if the proper zoning is not approved. Pastor Josh Ball said he's concerned renovations to stay up-to-date as a hotel could cost up to $60,000.

Ball said the shelter has different walks of life from people looking to get back on their feet, to others who have lost it all, like 21-year-old John Mergen who's been homeless since February.

"I was on the streets and everything," said Mergen. "Being [at the Grace House Community Church Homeless Shelter], it's actually like I'm living in my own house with my own family."

Now, Mergen and Ball who are the closest of friends, hope the Bedford Town Council votes in favor of the proposed ordinance.

Assistant Town Manager Bart Warner said because there is no homeless shelter zoning ordinance, when the shelter first opened in November 2015, it was zoned as a hotel.

"In listening to what they were proposing, it didn't really fit any definition of what we currently have," said Warner. "So, I made a find that the hotel was the closest thing that would allow them to go forward."

Since then, the shelter has housed more than 80 people; however, Ball said it was a quick fix to the problem the shelter faces now.

"If we're forced to stay as a hotel in zoning, there's going to have to be a lot of renovations that are going to have to take place in the facility," Ball told us. "We had an engineer come out and look at the facility so, we'd be spending close to anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 to actually update the building to meet that code."

Ball added if the shelter is not reclassified as a homeless shelter, he'll have to rely on donations to make the necessary upgrades. But, that could be detrimental to Grace House operations since it runs on donations to help others like Mergen as it is.

The Bedford Town Council will vote on the zoning issue Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Offices Building.