Proposed downtown homeless shelter to include food trucks, dog park and car wash

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A proposed homeless shelter downtown would not only give homeless women a place to stay, but also something to do.

Food trucks, a dog park, a stage and a car wash are among the amenities planned for a 10,000 square foot outdoor homeless plaza at the site of the city’s former vehicle inspection center on Washington Avenue.

The overnight shelter, which would be located on a second floor, would house 32 homeless women in private rooms. Hospitality Hub, which would build the shelter, says there's currently a shortage of places for women to stay.

“I never have to say to a man, ‘Tonight you have to sleep outside.’ I frequently have to say to a woman, ‘Tonight you have to sleep outside ‘cause there’s no bed for you,’” said Kelsey Johnson, executive director of Hospitality Hub.

Johnson presented his plans to Memphis City Council members and Shelby County commissioners at a joint meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Johnson said his group has already raised $5.5 million in private funds for the project and is asking the city and county for an additional $2.4 million over the next three years.

Both city council and the county commission still have to sign off on the proposed funding, but some are convinced they could put the money to better use.

“At best, it’s a band-aid on a bullet hole. At worst, this is cynical election year pandering,” said Brad Watkins, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

Watkins said the city and county should be directing its money to permanent housing.

“We could house four times as many people, not in shelters, but in housing and we could start doing that this year,” Watkins said.

The new shelter wouldn’t be fully operational until 2021, leaving a large chunk of Memphis’ homeless population with few options for the next two years.

“Thirty-seven percent of the homeless population are women. Only six percent of the beds in our community are for women,” said Memphis City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad.

Memphis City Council is expected to vote on the funding in early May, Conrad said.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner said commissioners could vote on it in either late May or early June.

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