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Opposition to proposed homeless shelter voiced during Danbury Zoning hearing

The Danbury Zoning Commission has continued a public hearing on a proposal to turn the former Super 8 motel into a homeless shelter, operated by a Stamford-based nonprofit.  The hearing lasted about five hours Tuesday night.  The homeless population has been housed at 3 Lake Avenue since the start of the pandemic under Governor Lamont's emergency order about congregate settings. 

About 60 people per night are currently housed there, though at the height of the pandemic it was 275 people.  Pacific House says 114 have been moved into permanent housing.  There is staff on site 24/7 and each person gets a case manager to provide supportive services.  There is a 9pm curfew. 

Seperate entrances are proposed for the emergency shelter and the supportive units.  Pacific House works with substance abuse providers, Catholic Charities, Dorothy Day, ARC and others.  The average stay is 90 days, but the goal is to get it to 60 or even 30 days. 

The Commission chair read letters from state housing officials in support of the zoning changes, and from a member of a former Danbury task force on homelessness.  Mayor Joe Cavo and Probate Court Judge Dianne Yamin were in favor.  Three others also provided statements in support. 

The Commission chair read letters in opposition, including about 30 who signed form letters and 25 others opposed.  About a dozen people spoke in opposition.  Several residents were critical that the police report of responses to the area did not include Lake Avenue, Mill Plain Road and Mill Ridge Road. 

Their concerns included that the location is near a school, an adult boutique, a liquor store and the highway.  Some were careful to note that it wasn't meant to imply that all homeless individuals have criminal records or substance use issues, but wanted it considered.  A resident shared videos of people trespassing in homeowners yards, picnicking next to the I-84 ramp, and alleged prostitution. 

Retired Danbury Police Detective Rachel Halas claims that police and fire are changing the code for calls to read "wellness visits" and that the report of responses was misleading because not every visit results in a report.  She asked the Zoning Commission to ask for records of "calls for service" in order to get a more complete picture of public safety and quality of life issues. 

One neighbor said the national sex offender registry already lists someone as living at 3 Lake Avenue.  Another neighbor noted that just because the shelter offers services, it doesn't mean they're used, because the services are not required as terms of staying at the shelter.