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Homeless Shelter in Scranton to Close for Several Weeks

SCRANTON, Pa. -- A homeless shelter in Scranton is voluntarily shutting its doors for the rest of the month after its neighbors questioned whether it was legally operating.

Officials from Keystone Mission say they have the proper permits from the city, but are taking the time off to make improvements.

On any given day, a few dozen people find shelter inside the Keystone Mission on West Olive Street.

"We come here to get warm and have coffee, have prayer, stuff like that. So, I mean, it hurts me a lot, but I'll just have to go to the recovery center, but they're closed on Sundays, so it's hard," one person said.

But starting Monday, the mission's weekly day shelter services will be shut down.

"I just found out this morning. I got told three weeks. At least the weather's going to be warming up in next couple days, so there's things that we can get done."

A move the mission is making voluntarily after neighbors complained to city officials and questioned whether the mission was operating legally.

"It's been really upsetting and heartbreaking," said volunteer Kim Fitzgerald. "Six years ago, I was homeless and this is the only place, why I'm standing here."

Keystone Mission's director of operations, Doug Hamilton, says the organization has the proper permits to operate as a religious institution, but there's debate over whether the shelter meets that criteria.

Hamilton plans to meet with city officials next week. But to smooth things over, he says the mission will not be open during the week as a day shelter. It will continue to host church services and meals on the weekends.

"We're going to reevaluate what we do here and how we do it so we can best meet the needs of those we serve as well as make it easier for our neighbors," Hamilton said.

The folks who run Keystone Mission believe that their closure could actually make the problem worse since they are a day shelter very near where many of the homeless in downtown Scranton spend their nights.

"The soup kitchen is right up the road from us, as well," Hamilton said. "It's a heavily trafficked area for the homeless, and if I lived in the area, I might be concerned, as well. Our hope is that we're not adding to a problem but helping to be a solution to the problem."

We talked to neighbors near Olive Street who went to city council earlier this week with concerns. No one wanted to go on camera, but they told us that increased drug use and littering near Keystone Mission are among their biggest concerns.

The mission will meet with Scranton's mayor and solicitor next week. The mayor says the city is looking into the mission's legal status, but there are no immediate plans to shut the shelter down permanently.

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