There was someone new Tuesday at the weekly meal held in Albany by the First Christian Church aimed at feeding the homeless: the mayor.
Sharon Konopa visited the site to take part in an ongoing conversation between the city and church over the fate of a portable toilet placed on church property.
The church says use of the facility is twofold; it helps homeless individuals who do not have restroom access after business hours and helps mitigate the human waste found on the church’s property absent the toilet. The city says its code doesn’t allow the use of a chemical toilet for more than a year under a special exemption permit.
The city has denied the church’s request for a permit. The church has since appealed the decision.
Church parishioner Daniel Dietz, who supports the portable toilet, attended the Wednesday City Council meeting to speak on the subject and thank the mayor for attending the dinner. According to Konopa, she visited the meal site after being unable to secure a separate meeting with the interested parties.
“The issue seems bigger than it is, but for us at the church, it’s pretty simple,” Dietz told the council. He said he did not believe the facility enabled homelessness and asked that the council create a committee to explore the issue.
Konopa said she believed the facility did enable homelessness and that she left the dinner agreeing to disagree. She also said that other area churches that host dinners for the homeless have been able to keep their properties free of human waste due to the way in which they ran the dinners.
“They make it clear that they cannot hang around before the dinner and move along after to the shelter,” she said.
Dietz said the group would be returning to a council work session on April 8.
Councilor Rich Kellum asked Dietz and the church to consider something in the interim: What would happen if you made an outside door that’s lockable?
Kellum suggested that the church consider allowing people to use their indoor restroom after hours by installing a lock on an exterior door that led to the restroom and an additional door that would lock individuals out of the sanctuary if they utilized the restroom after hours.
Councilor Alex Johnson II said he recently visited the facility and, as a softball coach who has visited his fair share of port-a-potties, declared it the cleanest facility he had seen. He also mentioned that homeless women, especially, were in need of a facility. Konopa said the city’s homeless shelters provided those.
Pastor Tim Graves, in speaking on the issue in the past, said that some homeless individuals have circumstances that bar them from using the city’s shelters and services.