UPDATE: Geauga Faith Rescue Mission to Seek New Homeless Shelter Location  
February 23, 2024 by Brian Doering

Decision Comes on Heals of Munson Residents Questioning Proposal

Rounds of applause and voices of concern echoed inside Munson Township Town Hall Feb. 20 as Geauga Faith Rescue Mission leaders spoke about their proposed homeless women’s shelter.

The Geauga Faith Rescue Mission has decided to look for a new location for their proposed homeless women’s shelter after hearing feedback from Munson Township residents Feb. 20.

“After listening to community feedback regarding the proposed Women’s Mission on Bean and Auburn roads, GFRM has decided to begin searching for another location for the women’s mission facility,” GFRM Board President Mary Owen said in a press release Feb. 23. “The Mission offers its thanks to the citizens of Munson for your consideration and for the support we received.”

GFRM is deeply grateful for the prayers and encouragement offered by those who share its vision of inspiring transformation through the grace of God in the lives of those who are homeless, Owen added.

“We remain in strong partnership with the Sisters of Notre Dame and are grateful for our shared ministry and vision, as well as their kind generosity. We remain grateful for the support from our community partners in this endeavor, and we ask for your continuing prayers for those who are suffering from homelessness,” she said. “Geauga Faith Rescue Mission has never been more resolved to continue offering faith, hope and purpose through the Gospel of Jesus Christ by providing shelter, food, spiritual guidance and community for those in crisis.”

GFRM’s decision comes on the heels of a contentious two-hour informational meeting Tuesday night at Munson Township Town Hall that drew roughly 180 people.

Several residents questioned the advisability of housing homeless women in a rural residential setting — the former Sisters of Notre Dame preschool on the east side of Auburn Road — and if the organization would be liable for any problems in the community arising from the program.

Residents expressed concerns about crime, safety, property values and the proposed shelter’s location.

“What you are doing is not best for the people you are going to try to help because your location is not the best location,” one resident said. “When you talk about the environment and where you place an organization’s facilities, you have to be compatible to that environment and you are not. To succeed, you want the community to support you and, from what I have heard in this room, you have failed.”

One resident asked for reassurance of safety, but said she wasn’t against what GFRM wants to do.

“Can you give us any reassurance that where our kids play or sleep or a family sleeps will totally be safe? Would you be willing to hold yourselves liable and accountable for the actions of the people that you bring in there?” she asked. “Because if you are not, why would you expect us to believe in them if you guys can’t?”

Another resident called the proposed women’s shelter a bipartisan issue.

“I don’t think we are divided as we all think we are on this issue,” he said. “I do believe that it’s a bipartisan issue and I think we can hopefully come to some sort of amicable agreement.”

Plans for a homeless women’s shelter in the township were initially put on hold after a slew of Facebook comments opposing it caught officials’ attention.

A Munson Township Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on a variance to allow the shelter at the facility owned by the Sisters of Notre Dame — originally scheduled for Jan. 17 — was postponed to allow GFRM to hold informational meetings.

Tuesday night, GFRM Executive Director Nathan Long shared the nonprofit organization’s vision to inspire transformation through the grace of God in the lives of those who are homeless.

“It’s an opportunity for someone to get back on their feet and get the help they need. We’re not there to enable someone to continue a lifestyle that’s been harmful to them,” Long said. “We’re there to give them an opportunity to make some changes in their life and to fix some of the things that they’ve struggled with. That’s the heart of what a rescue mission is.”

A letter dated Dec. 18 from SND to Munson Township Zoning Inspector Jim Herringshaw outlined the collaborative effort that would make use of the former preschool.

The facility, across from the driveway to the Catholic church and its school, was no longer in use and would accommodate up to 10 women if renovated, according to the letter. It would have provided housing for up to 90 days for single women over the age of 18.

The facility is in an institutional district, so a variance from the board of zoning appeals would have been needed.

After distributing fliers to residents before the meeting, Long explained what policies would have been implemented for the shelter and explained the organization hopes to serve eight to 10 women at a time.

GFRM would have conducted background checks on everyone who applies, deny service to violent felons and registered sex offenders, maintain video surveillance and staff supervision and provide transportation for employment, shopping and activities for those without a vehicle, Long said.

“We realize that we’re equipped to meet certain needs but not all needs, so we’re putting some parameters around the people that we’re reaching out to that we’re able to serve at this location,” he said. “We don’t see a huge number in Geauga County that we think we need a larger facility. We think that will meet the needs for single women that fall in the gaps of some of the other services that we have right now in Geauga County.”

Owen explained to residents the plan for a women’s shelter started last September and was in its early stages.

“I understand the anxieties and fears, but if you could embrace this, help these women and take them in, this could be an opportunity to witness God at work in their communities. Just walk with us on this,” Owen said. “There are no decisions made, yet, and we haven’t had a variance meeting, yet.”

Sister Margaret Gorman clarified that SND was happy to share resources, but wouldn’t fund, operate or benefit financially from having the shelter on their campus.

“We are happy to provide an opportunity for the community to be part of the ministry. I know many of our sisters, should this come to pass, look forward to participating. It fits our own mission,” Gorman said. “We can see the dignity and the innate goodness of people shining forth. That’s what we want to help to promote here in our community.”

A resident on the border with Munson Township sent a letter to the editor Feb. 22 expressing discouragement at the “anger and vitriol” she witnessed during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“The same concerns were raised over and over. The representatives from Geauga Faith answered them respectfully, but it seemed that they were not heard,” Susan Mullet said. “This organization is privately funded, so no, your taxes will not go up. They assured everyone that this would be for Geauga women only and yet it was suggested it would be filled with illegal immigrants from the Southern border. Is this a real concern or are you simply regurgitating media propaganda?

“I find it unlikely that the Sisters would ever endanger their students or neighbors,” she added. “And yet, no one there offered a viable option. No one offered to sit down and discuss a better plan. My family has lived in this area for well over 100 years and I know there is more kindness in Geauga County then negativity. Please also know that those who spread anger and hate via so called Geauga social media sites do not and will never represent me.”