Not in my backyard 

The nonprofit agency is building a $15 million, 50,000-square-foot, multipurpose facility that includes an overnight shelter, a feeding site, administrative offices, a chapel and social services offices. The new building replaces the abandoned flea market that was housed there for decades.

Marilyn Blackburn, who lives north of the facility at 1101 N. Barnes Ave., complained to the Oklahoma City Council during its Nov. 5 meeting that the shelter will be overrun with transients and criminal elements, creating problems for nearby neighbors. “There are multiple problems in that area,” she said. “There are prostitutes operating 100 feet from my bedroom window. This will just add to it.”

Blackburn told the council the Salvation Army has not been receptive to her complaints.

“I have had so much animosity with the Salvation Army. We’ve been helpless and overrun. Are we not going to have a say?” she said.

Blackburn said most of her neighbors are low-income Hispanics who didn’t know how to protest the building plans. “They were just in tears when they heard the news (that the OKC Planning Commission recommended approval),” she said. “We feel like we’re getting kicked in the teeth. It’s a very, very sad commentary.”

Blackburn complained that the NW 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue area has been overrun with social service ministries that feed or provide shelter to people.

“I am not being unsympathetic, but there are 22 of these sites within two miles,” she said.

Despite her protests, the council voted 7-0 to approve a special permit to operate the emergency shelter and feeding site. The Salvation Army currently is located in downtown OKC between S. Harvey and Hudson avenues, which will be the site of the MAPS 3 Public Park. The agency is making the move, in part, because of a $5 million donation from Chesapeake Energy.

Army’s response
Agency officials said they met three times with neighbors to explain the Salvation Army’s operations.

The building’s design will place the kitchen and overnight shelter at the south end, as far away from the complaining neighbors as possible, said Operations Director Jeff Lara. The main entrance for social services clients will be on the east side, facing Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many of the people who eat and sleep at the emergency shelter are working poor. “We’re trying to transform them from homeless and hungry so they don’t have to depend on us,” he said.

The new facility will have 103 beds compared to the 98 at the current location. Lara said shelter clients are served breakfast, and then it’s off to school, work or searching for employment.

“It’s not like they spend the day here, watching TV. They come back in the evening, and they’re served dinner,” he said.

In addition to the shelter residents, about 50 to 60 people from surrounding areas are fed each night. “These typically are people who don’t have anything to eat,” he said.

Construction on the new building should be complete by September 2014.

The Salvation Army is the second homeless shelter to move or build a new facility west of downtown and south of Midtown. The first was the WestTown Homeless Resource Campus, now located at 1724 NW Fourth St. about six blocks from the Salvation Army’s new building.

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Tim Farley

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