HARRISONBURG – Following recent conversations and concerns from events downtown regarding homelessness and panhandlers, Our Community Place will allow up to 25 people to sleep on its grounds through July 29.

In a press release sent out Friday, representatives of the nonprofit organization in the Northeast Neighborhood said they had conversations with the Our Community Place board, law enforcement and other city leaders such as Mayor Deanna Reed and Harrisonburg Chief Eric English. The group decided to allow for the temporary change.

The conversations followed the closing of Denton Park on June 19 following the death of a park patron’s dog.

Our Community Place provides meals, showers, storage lockers, case management services and job training opportunities to those in need, but is not an overnight shelter.

The organization has a policy that restricts people from sleeping there, although many have been in the last few weeks.

“Our community members are stepping up to play their part in making this work,” said Eric Olson-Getty, director of development and administration for Our Community Place, adding that those who sleep on the property have picked up its trash, checked people in each night and reported security concerns to staff in the morning.

The nonprofit’s board has approved additional overnight services until the opening of the Open Doors shelter in the fall, but only if the organization finds $23,000 of funding to hire overnight monitors, the release says. Open doors currently operates from November until April.

If Open Doors acquires the necessary funding, the overnight program will add more case management requirements for participation, according to the press release. If the nonprofit is unable to raise the amount required to carry out the program, all funds raised will roll over into its general operating funds.

“Harrisonburg is in need of low-barrier shelter options and we are not in the position to carry that burden ourselves,” said Sam Nickels, Our Community Place executive director.

Being a low-barrier shelter means that an organization or provider takes in the homeless and gives them a place to sleep with no background checks or entry rules.

“We have had productive conversations with city leadership and other service agencies and our hope is that we can work together to rise to the challenge this summer and fall and come up with a more sustainable solution by next spring because OCP will not be able to continue sheltering people next year,” Nickels said in the release.

To make a donation, visit http://ourcommunityplace.org/donate/.

Contact Laine Griffin at 574-6286 or lgriffin@dnronline.com. Follow Laine on Twitter @laine_griffDNR

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