Police records show problems at Oliver Apartments

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A multi-million dollar project to house the homeless in South Bend is getting a lot of attention by police. According to South Bend Police records, there were nearly 160 calls for service at the Oliver Apartments on West Indiana Avenue in the 9 month period after the facility opened.

Oliver Apartments, a $5.5-million dollar project, opened in November. Since that time, some advocates aren’t happy with the programs and several of the formerly homeless residents say they don’t feel safe.

“I was explained this was supposed to be a safe house. You can feel safe here. I don’t feel safe here.” Dewayne Polk, who’s lived in the Oliver Apartments since February, said.

Polk is disabled and was homeless for years. He said he was optimistic when he moved in. That optimism quickly changed.

“People are getting beat up every night. Alcoholics, I’m picking them up off the floor. They’re drinking and spilling s*** all in the hallways, all that kind of crap. The drugs are being passed through here. Tunshee. Synthetic marijuana. Spice. Whatever they call it.” He said. “There was a crack pipe in the dryer. I took it out.”

A large number of the calls for service were for an “Unwanted Person.” But, we found 5 calls regarding drug investigations, 7 reports of theft, 5 calls for shootings/stabbings, assaults and fights, 5 reports of sex crimes and 4 calls for overdoses and deaths.

A suspected overdose from April led to the bust of a large heroin ring. 5 people, who did not live in the apartments, are now facing federal charges. They’re suspected in supplying drugs that ended up in the apartment complex.

Police have also been called to the apartments for harassment and stalking, disturbances, and warrant investigations.

“It’s a bad situation. We got neighbors that live around here. Kids that run around here.” Polk said.

“At the very least we have people indoors and that is a very good thing.” Mayor Pete Buttigieg explained. “We’re talking about people who would very likely be living under a bridge if it weren’t for this facility. It’s not going to be perfect. This is not a hotel. It’s not a hospital. And, it’s not a jail. This is permanent supportive housing for people who are statistically the very most likely to few dozen, out of a population of hundreds of thousands, a handful of people who are most likely to be victims of crimes, to experience an overdose, so of course when you gather them in this location, there are going to be some high numbers. But watching to what happens to those numbers over time is what matters most.”

Breaking the numbers down by month does show a downward trend since February. Early on, with only a few people living in the 32 capacity complex, the calls were relatively low. In November, there were 4 calls. 11 calls in December. 14 calls in January. In February there were 35. In the months following, the calls were 20 or less per month. In the first 3 weeks of August, there were only 6 calls.

“As one individual told me, ‘I feel, other than a roof over my head, I’m no better off than I was before.’” John Shafer, a homeless advocate with the Michiana Five, said.

Shafer says he stopped referring people to the apartments in December.

“The environment became hostile, it became unsafe, and we could not in good conscience ask any other homeless person to fill out an application and try to get them in.” Shafer said.

Opinions on the conditions inside of the apartment complex are mixed. Rod Frison, who says he’s lived in the apartments since November, believes the complex and services offered have helped him greatly.

“Yeah, I feel safe. They have a police officer here and everything.” He said.

Off duty police work security part time. Oaklawn also offers mental health and addiction treatment.

Shafer believes 24-hour security would greatly help. Polk agrees.

“They’re just hiding these people, giving them benefits they don’t need.” Polk said.

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