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Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005 11:50 pm

A reluctant fight

A decision about the new Salvation Army facility is postponed for another month

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Capt. Deon Oliver: “I am saddened that people choose to focus on elements they don’t understand.”
PHOTO BY TODD SPIVAK
Capt. Deon Oliver, commanding officer of the Salvation Army of Springfield, and Oak Ridge Neighborhood Association president Phil Douglas agree on one thing: They wish that they didn’t have to battle each other over a proposed Salvation Army community center and homeless shelter. But that’s just what’s happening. Douglas says that the location the Salvation Army wants for its new facility, right across from the Oak Ridge Cemetery, is inappropriate for several reasons. Drivers on the J. David Jones Parkway, he notes, rarely abide by the posted speed limit. And, he says, the neighborhood is “fearful the panhandlers will show up and that would not be a good thing.” It wouldn’t be good for the neighborhood, he says, and it wouldn’t be good for Oak Ridge, the second most-visited cemetery in the nation. The Salvation Army, he says, “by its very nature is a magnet for problems.”
But, Oliver maintains, there is a need in the community for the Salvation Army’s services.
“I am saddened that people choose to focus on elements they don’t understand,” he says. Of the 40 people now housed in the Salvation Army’s transitional shelter, two-thirds have jobs, and shelter staffers do not allow residents to “hang around” outside the organization’s building on Sixth Street, he says. The Salvation Army has been planning a new facility for at least two years [see Todd Spivak, “The price of salvation,” May 13, 2004]. In 2003, the organization conducted a needs assessment to which more than 100 community leaders were invited. Oliver says that the independent consultants found the greatest need on the north side of town, where there were few social-service agencies other than churches. This year alone, 400 people from the Oak Ridge neighborhood have used Salvation Army’s services, Oliver says. Having outgrown the space the Salvation Army has now, Oliver says, the new building, with its computer lab, game room, basketball courts, health clinic, and café, will be more of a community center than a shelter. Douglas thinks that the space would best be used as a visitor center or parking lot for Oak Ridge Cemetery. “This is not a ‘not in my back yard’ thing. They’re making us seem like we’re backward yokels, but we’ve found no one who wants this, except the Salvation Army and the State Journal-Register,” Douglas says. The daily paper has editorialized in favor of the center. Though admittedly frustrated, Oliver says that this time has been challenging yet reaffirming. He says that the Salvation Army has addressed all concerns, from safety to aesthetics, and considered all alternatives — but has run out of options.  “The community will suffer if the Salvation Army doesn’t relocate. This is the best location, at the best price, where we can make the biggest impact.”
The issue was scheduled to come to a head this week, when the Springfield City Council was to vote on “down-zoning” the property. However, the Salvation Army asked for a continuance to hear concerns from veterans groups and a local bank, which owns property in the area. When the Council votes next month, Ward 9 Ald. Tom Selinger says he will carry out the will of his constituents. Most, he says, have told him they oppose the proposed facility.
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