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JUICE Orange shelter could be shut down over zoning issues

The founder is asking for help from the public and the government to keep the shelter open as cold temps hit the Mid-South.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The founder of an Orange Mound non-profit serving the homeless is asking for help to keep her unofficial homeless shelter open for business.  

JUICE Orange Mound operates out of a former retail store in the 2300 block of Park Ave. During the day, the center helps coordinate services for the homeless. At night, up to 10 people can sleep there. 

Founder Britney Thornton wants to be able to open a warming center, which would allow more people to spend the night in the building - but the property is not zoned for that. 

Thornton said she needs a zoning variance to be able to continue operating. 

"We just have this technical hurdle they are telling us we have to do to continue to operate," said Thornton. "The struggle right now is red tape that we never anticipated ever having to go through has caught up with us."

Thornton said the application for the variance is $1,000 and she needs technical drawings, which also cost money. She has asked local leaders to assist with both or would like help from the public. 

She is trying to get the application complete for the January 25, 2022, Board of Adjustment meeting. 

Thornton said instead of spending the money on the application, she could buy food or clothing for those in need.

Thornton said the warming center and shelter wasn't planned, but just happened when the Mid-South had a cold snap last winter and people needed a place to stay. There is no homeless shelter in Orange Mound.

"We opened the building as a temporary warming center, and it was always meant to be a temporary warming center. But once we opened up, we saw how many people were in need of shelter," said Thornton. "We clearly have been meeting the direct housing need. That is not a problem. It is just making sure we meet what the Code Enforcement and Office of Planning and Development regulations are."

If Thornton can get a variance, she said she will be able to operate a warming center and house more people overnight. Right now, she said homeless people have been turned away nightly because of the limitations.

"It is the limit that is suppressing us right now. At any moment we have more bodies that need to be here at night than we are allowed," said Thornton. 

Thornton said with the winter weather expected this week she is worried about leaving people on the street and out in the cold. 

"It is just cold and I think we focus on freezing too much. 34 degrees is cold, 36 degrees is cold. We have people in need before the weather dips and the weather is expected to dip tomorrow," said Thornton.

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