New Digs 

City's largest homeless shelter has plans to build a new facility.

In the next few years, homeless men in Memphis will have a new place to call home — at least temporarily.

The Memphis Union Mission plans to build a new Men's Emergency Shelter behind the current facility at 383 Poplar. Once that facility is built, they'll demolish the building the mission has inhabited for nearly 50 years.

The current building is no longer sufficient to meet the shelter's growing needs, so the organization presented a proposal to the Land Use Control Board last Thursday to purchase three acres behind the facility. The board unanimously passed the proposal, and now it's pending approval by the Memphis City Council.

Steve Carpenter, director of development for the Union Mission, said more than 150 people sleep at the shelter on an average night, but it only offers 120 beds. The overflow patrons must sleep on mats on the floor. But Carpenter said the new facility would provide more space, so that all occupants can sleep comfortably.

"That would give us the ability to provide beds for men who are currently sleeping on the floor," Carpenter said. "If we have a really cold night, we may be providing overnight shelter for upwards of 300 people. On nights when we have overflow like that, we have floor mats and blankets that people sleep on, [but we would] like to be able to provide a bed for everybody rather than having to use floor mats."

Besides more room for beds, the new facility will offer a classroom for volunteers to provide medical and dental care. Carpenter said the larger building should also limit loitering.

Because of space limitations, guests who sleep at the current shelter are asked to leave in the morning so workers can clean. But many guests hang around outside the building until they can come back inside. Carpenter said this has spawned criticism from surrounding businesses, and he hopes the larger space at the new facility will allow for men to stay at least until after lunch.

"We want to do everything we can to be a good neighbor, obviously to the homeless who come to us but also to the other neighbors in the area," Carpenter said. "We want to redevelop the property in a way the community can actually be proud of it and be pleased with it."

There's no set date for construction of the new facility to begin. If it's approved by the city council, the mission will then begin a capital fund-raising campaign. Carpenter said the current shelter would remain open until the new facility is constructed.

Only males can stay overnight at the shelter, but women and children are welcome at the mission's daily free lunch. Occupants receive four free nights every month, but they must pay $6 for each additional night.

In 2011, the Union Mission provided more than 112,000 people with a place to rest and served more than 294,000 meals.

Said Carpenter: "It's a joy to be a part of a ministry that's ministering to people both spiritually and mentally and to see lives rebuilt and families restored."

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