City Walk Urban Mission is a local organization that has formed a temporary shelter at 1709 Mahan Drive in response to Tallahassee’s four emergency shelters having to decrease their capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, area residents have voiced concern over the safety of the shelter.
The City of Tallahassee and The Big Bend Continuum of Care (BBCoC) say that in November 2020, the City Walk shelter was opened as a low barrier homeless shelter — meaning that the homeless population can use it without mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Abena Ojetayo, Director of Housing and Community Resilience at the City of Tallahassee confirmed that the City does not provide direct services to the homeless population. All the local homeless shelters are operated by nonprofit agencies and they participate as members of BBCoC, which is the primary coordinating agency for all homeless service providers in the Tallahassee region.
Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier confirmed that on Jan. 8, the BBCoC met with City Walk and discussed that in the long term, City Walk would like to expand and provide permanent and transitional housing and use office space for social services at the Mahan location.
Residents have shown concern about the homeless shelter and reached out to local elected officials. Concerns from residents include the homeless population sleeping and loitering around businesses and neighborhoods near Mahan Drive as well as a registered sex offender residing within the shelter.
Renee Miller, executive director of City Walk Urban Mission told Tallahassee Reports that she understands residents’ concerns, but she believes that the shelter actually makes the community much safer.
“If someone is legally allowed to receive services from us, we do not deny them that,” Miller said. “Everyone that we serve we know is in compliance with state statute.”
Miller said the registered sex offender currently residing at the shelter committed a sex crime in 2003, before the Jessica Lunsford Act, which enforces strict sex offender registration requirements, took effect. The individual was released from prison in 2013 and is on state probation now for a failure to register.
Miller argued that the shelter’s guidelines are more restrictive than state probation guidelines and said the shelter is “an added level of protection.”
“We know where he is all the time because he’s in our program,” she said. “We have cameras everywhere, so we can see him all the time. Probation doesn’t have cameras on him 24/7. Their curfew is 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Our curfew for him is he’s not leaving the property without us or an escort designated by us for the first thirty days. Secondly, our curfew is 7:00 p.m. so even if he was allowed to go off-site, like to the grocery store or something, he has to be back at his room at 7:00 p.m. With probation, it’s 10:00 p.m.”
Miller said the shelter can also search rooms and drug test at any time. She also said that alcohol is not allowed.
Miller also said there are certain people on the sex offender registry that the shelter cannot take, including individuals to which the Jessica Lunsford Act applies. She said the shelter has already turned away three individuals.
Looking forward, Miller said that City Walk has procured a project manager to ensure that the shelter has necessary permits and is compliant with the City’s codes.
She said people concerned about the shelter are welcome to contact her or schedule a tour of the facility.