County creates task force to find alternate sites for homeless intake center

NOW: County creates task force to find alternate sites for homeless intake center

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- South Bend Mayor James Mueller has publicly asked critics to find a better site for the proposed homeless intake center, rather than the site off Bendix Drive that the city has their sights on.

St. Joseph County leaders have now created a task force to do just that.

Thursday morning, the South Bend Redevelopment Commission will vote on whether to buy the Bendix Drive property from the South Bend School Corporation for $277,000.

County Commissioner Derek Dieter plans to ask them to hold off.

He believes all the task force needs is 30-45 days to find and present alternative options.

“What the mayor has asked us to do is find a site for him,” says County Commissioner Derek Dieter.

Option #1 was a 4.5-acre lot downtown on Dean Johnson Boulevard that has already been turned down by the city.

Along with its proximity to businesses, St. Joseph County Commissioners initially criticized the Bendix site for being near a daycare, a Catholic school, and residential neighborhoods.

The county's proposed location for the intake center is adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club, the YWCA, Ivy Tech Community College, and residential neighborhoods.

“We offered that to him for a dollar, which would have saved the taxpayers $277,000,” Dieter explains. “He said ‘no.’”

Commissioners point out the site is within walking distance of essential services for the homeless, but the city’s point is to decentralize those services and spread them responsibility.

Upset residents and even the city has asked ‘Why not Portage Manor?’

The county says along with topography issues, they don’t want a repeat of homeless encampments in the woods on the lot, like they experienced before Portage Manor was even shut down.

“Having homeless encampments which we cleaned out four times, over 900 bags of garbage, and you name it,” recalls Dieter.

With those two options struck, the task force was formed to keep searching for sites and look for a wholistic approach to addressing homelessness.

“The task force is really intentioned to move from this reactionary period to set a plan,” says Kevin Smith with the Studebaker campus.

Even though the county is non-committal about putting up funding for the intake center even if a new site is chosen, commissioners say they’re putting in this work because of concerns from constituents that are opposed to the city’s current Bendix Drive plan.

“It’s a city issue, of course, because they’re putting up the money, but it affects the people in the city and county,” says County Councilman Joe Thomas.

They will continue to search for other locations that fit the city’s criteria: land that’s over three acres, within city limits, a quarter mile from a bus stop, and able to build on.

They say it will take time.

“This is the beginning; we’re just asking for time,” Thomas says.

The city responded to the county-run task force in statement in part quote:

“The city is glad to hear county officials acknowledge the need for low barrier homeless services in our community and would welcome back a county-city partnership that existed until last year. We urgently need a site and cannot delay forward motion. We hope the county’s process moves swiftly, and the county commissioners reconsider county-owned sites like Portage Manor.”

The county also said the non-profit EnFocus would be part of the task force. ABC57 has confirmed the county has reached out, but EnFocus has not yet agreed to join.

Commissioner Dieter expects the rest of the members of the bipartisan task force to be announced on Monday, along with their next steps as a group.

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