Lorain's St. Joseph Homeless Shelter faces closure due to fire safety code violations

Mayor Ritenauer creates a temporary solution

LORAIN, Ohio - Magda Flores of Lorain has been homeless for the past two years, even though she's been working a full-time job for the past 18 months.

To make matters worse, she may soon find herself out on the street because the homeless shelter she counts on could be closed due to fire safety code violations.

"I don't have anywhere to go," said Flores. "I wouldn't have anywhere to go. I'd have to face the elements, and throw on as much clothing as I can."

St. Joseph Homeless Shelter in Lorain has been operated by Catholic Charities since 1995, providing warm meals and overnight sleeping accommodations during the winter months.

But, in recent months, the shelter has been issued citations by the Lorain City Fire Department for inadequate fire safety equipment.

Catholic Charities Executive Director John Klee reports the fire code violations will force the shelter to close indefinitely on Nov. 5, leaving more than 60 homeless men, women and children with nowhere else to go.

"We've put nearly $60,000 in upgrade to the shelter, but now we're being hit with code violations," explained Klee. "We understand the need for safety, but can't we continue to get monthly permits until a permanent solution can be found?"

Klee confirmed Catholic Charities is currently negotiating with the city of Lorain for a property on 14th Street, which would act as a new shelter location. That location, however, won't be ready until the summer of 2014.

Shelter director Louis Maldonado hopes Lorain fire officials will reconsider enforcing the code violations and let the shelter continue operations through the winter months until the new location can be secured.

"My appeal to the city would be that they search their hearts and their conscience, and do what's right for the people who are homeless in their city," said Maldonado.

But Lorain Fire Chief Tom Brown told NewsChannel5 the shelter has had plenty of warning about the fire code violations.

Brown explained the former church location doesn't have a fire sprinkling system, and some of the entrances and exits don't meet code.

"We've been giving the shelter temporary permits for more than two years now and code violations continue," said Brown. "My department is very concerned about safety in that shelter. If a fire happens there and people are hurt or killed, I can't live with that."

Brown has taken the case to the State Fire Marshall's office in Columbus, hoping a plan can be created to solve this fire safety dilemma.

A few hours later, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer contacted NewsChannel5 to let us know a temporary agreement had been reached that would keep the shelter open through this coming winter.

The Mayor worked with Fire Chief Brown in granting the shelter a 150 day temporary occupancy permit through the beginning of April 2014.

Leaders at the shelter are required to meet with fire officials to create a more comprehensive fire safety plan within the next two weeks.

"Fire safety is very important to our city," said Mayor Ritenauer. "We also appreciate the importance of the homeless shelter, and we're willing to work with their personnel to improve their fire safety plan."

Meanwhile, the homeless who count on the shelter are relieved the shelter will stay open..

Maldonado is pleased the additional temporary permits will be issued until the new shelter location is ready.

"It's very important because some of the these people are not only homeless, but they have serious illnesses," said Maldonado. "We've got people with hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure."

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