Ft. Walton Beach Churches may have to Obtain Permits for Cold Weather Shelters

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Tuesday night Fort Walton Beach City Council members heard the first reading of a new ordinance, requiring churches to obtain permits if they want to continue participating in cold weather shelter nights.

That permitting process could limit the number of homeless people a church could shelter.

City officials say they're concerned about the safety of both the homeless and the volunteers.

"We will continue to work with them on a short term solution,” said Ft. Walton Beach City Manager, Michael Beedie. “Possibly maybe they can open two shelters a night instead of one to accommodate the overflow."

The First Presbyterian Church has participated in the program for 12 years.

Pastor Sharon Schuler thinks, in some ways, it's a great idea.

"I welcome the process because the churches are not really set up to be shelter equipped,” said Pastor Schuler.

But the permits could also have a negative impact.

"They may have to send people back out into the cold because they won't be able to accept as many people,” said Maryann Helfrich, Executive Director for the Fresh Start for Children and Families.

However, Schuler hopes the city will keep up their end and help these churches in the long run.

"The city is working with the chamber to try and find some property where we can construct a homeless shelter,” stated Beedie.

Council members will vote on the permit proposal in two weeks.