A Look Back at 2017: Helping South Bend's Homeless Population
SOUTH BEND, Ind., 2017 has been a roller coaster year for many and for some the downs meant losing everything.
As the year comes to an end we're looking back at the conflicts between south bend city officials and advocates for the homeless population.
You probably see them every day, the homeless people of South Bend.
Throughout the year city officials have tried to move them off the streets and advocates have worked to protect their rights as humans.
Thomas Rebman actually chose to be homeless himself. He says there are a lot of stereotypes about his lifestyle.
“Because of misinformation, because of stereotypes, because of myths, because of all types of things, people don't seem to classify homeless people as people,” said Rebman.
At the beginning of 2017, South Bend officials introduced the idea of the Fuse Project, an effort with South Bend Heritage Foundation, for a housing development on the south side of the city. It will also bring together service providers to help those in need for long term care.
But that solution wouldn't be ready until the fall.
During the summer more and more people returned to an encampment under the Main Street bridge.
But as they moved in so did Code Enforcement and South Bend Police.
It would still be a couple more months before the Fuse Center would be ready with 32 apartment-like units.
Throughout the year the community has worked to come together to try to help the homeless population.
From garage sales, to food drives, the community made sure to be there for everyone.
Christina McGovern is the Director of Development and Marketing for the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County. They focus on the young people living on the streets.
"We've estimated young people, homeless, unaccompanied youth is about one thousand in St. Joe County each year,” said McGovern. “It is a large number, especially in our community."
In October those living in the encampment under the bridge were told it was time to leave.
The city said it was a public health issue.
“What we're trying to do as an administration is find an approach that balances law, compassion and most importantly safety for all of those involved,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Advocates like South Bend Resident Rebecca, started pushing for more places for the homeless to be able to go once they were kicked out of the camp.
The group of advocates was able to get enough people on board to create a Bill of Rights for the homeless.
In 20-16 the Housing and Urban Development Housing Inventory said there were more than 700 beds available in Saint Joseph County and even more were brought in for weather amnesty in the winter.
With that winter weather setting in----One Michigan couple was able to donate special coats that double as sleeping bags!
The donation was made during an event called 'Christmas under the Bridge' which Michael Salisbury from Buchanan, Michigan helped put on.
It was just in time too, as some of the homeless were losing hope.
“Just came right on out and admitted to me that he was contemplating suicide," said Michael. "The man is still walking around breathing. He didn't give up."
South bend heritage was able to open Oliver Apartments in November. So far they've been able to house 22 recently homeless people. Officials say it was a difficult but rewarding challenge. It's still looking for 10 more people to move in.