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La Porte's abandoned County Home could become haven for homeless

LA PORTE, Ind. - La Porte’s abandoned County Home could soon be given a new life. One man is hoping to transform the building into a haven for the homeless.

Wednesday night, La Porte County Commissioners granted non-profit Homeward Bound, Inc. founder, Leigh Coburn, his request for 100 days to come up with a plan for the home.

Coburn says the County Home was built in 1886 to serve the poor in the area.

Over the past few years, Commissioner Vidya Kora says the finances became too much for the county to handle as enrollment dwindled to five people.

He says the county pulled funding last year, leaving the place abandoned.

Coburn is hoping to restore it to its original purpose.

“Takes a lot more than just a shelter,” he said.

Leigh Coburn, wants to build a village—a community—for the homeless, starting with La Porte’s abandoned County Home.

“It was built for the poor. That’s exactly the only reason it was built…We want to turn it back into what it was designed for,” he said.

They want to help the 250+ homeless people Coburn says live in La Porte County for moral and economic reasons.

“It’s about $31,000 a year for a person on the street…so if you take that and multiply it by the number of people we know we have in La Porte County, that’s $7.7 million,” said Coburn.

Center Township Trustee Lisa Pierzakowski says five fresh faces walked into her office looking for help just last week.

“We’ve got to do something to break the cycle, and breaking the cycle is finding some place for these people to live, and like I said not just putting them in a shelter and saying okay you’re housed now, because that isn’t helping. They need to have a home where they feel like they’re doing something,” said Pierzakowski.

“My vision would be this would be the first step. This would be just transitional housing in order to just get them off the street. And, there’s a lot of acreage around here and if we can get that zoned correctly so that we can put the tiny homes within the acreage so that they could graduate to that. Then, they’d have the independent living,” said Coburn.

County Commissioner Kora says they like the idea—the problem is the funding.

He estimates it would cost about $10 million to bring the building up to current code standards.

“If we could get people back in here without meeting the new ADA requirements, that’s a humongous step forward,” said Coburn.

Then, he says they could slash that steep price tag significantly.

“I look at just one home or one village being able to take maybe 200 people off the street and get them hope again…I want it to become the pilot plant for the state, and as such, I want it to be the pilot plant for the nation, and we’re going to have people coming here to see why we’re doing so well,” he said.

To cover the overhead costs, Coburn says they would charge rent ranging from $200-$400, depending on room size.

He estimates they could house 30 people on the first floor alone.

Coburn says he is working with an architect to see if they can devise solutions to fix up the building at a lower cost.

For more information on Homeward Bound and their vision for the tiny village click here.


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