Homeless hangout or transit center?

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Staff Writer

COEUR d’ALENE — City Council members in Coeur d’Alene opted to withhold money for the time being from the county transit department after county officials said they won’t build a lobby in the proposed Citylink transit center at Riverstone because it would attract area homeless.

Council member Kiki Miller introduced a motion to not renew the city’s $48,000 payments to Citylink following the discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The motion came after a back and forth between council member Dan Gookin and Jeannette Leckvold of the Kootenai County grants management office, which oversees the CityLink funding.

Gookin, the council liaison for transportation, said despite funding the public transportation system, the city has little say in where stops are located, and it has no authority to handle consumer complaints.

In addition, the city has been given little opportunity for input regarding a proposed transit center at Riverstone, which has been in the works for seven years.

Building the center has been a point of controversy from some political groups that think it will bring a criminal element to the area, something the county appears to acknowledge.

Leckvold said the county plans to have employee offices in the center once it’s completed, but no lobby for transit users to get out of the weather.

“We’re not proposing a lobby at this time because we don’t want it to be a hangout,” Leckvold said. “It’s not a place for homeless people to hang out or anyone else to hang out.”

Gookin reminded Leckvold that by taking federal dollars for the transit center, the county must comply with federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination against customers.

“The county staff refers to ‘those people’ as a reason not to have a lobby,” Gookin said. “The people who ride the bus are going to have to wait outside in the cold.”

Leckvold said the idea is for riders to get on and off buses at the transit center, not to stick around it for hours.

“It’s a bus stop,” she said. “It’s a transit bus hub. It’s not a place for people to come to hang out … we think that would increase crime.”

Council member Dan English agreed to delay funding until the city and county could meet to further discuss the issue.

“I’m hoping there will be a very public and open process on some of those decisions especially when it comes to the … whole concept of who is it serving,” English said. “You expect to go in and get out of the weather and have some heat and things… I’m hoping they’re going to have a very open mind about some of those things.”

Mayor Steve Widmyer proposed a workshop that the council unanimously agreed upon after Gookin reiterated his stance to withhold funding.

“If we approve funding tonight, I think there’s less of a chance for them to be cooperative,” he said.

Widmyer proposed meeting with commissioners as well as transit staff before further funding decisions are made.

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