Public meeting about homeless intake center evacuated, hundreds in attendance

NOW: Public meeting about homeless intake center evacuated, hundreds in attendance

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was a public meeting so well-attended; it became dangerous.

Over 200 South Bend residents came to learn more and voice their concerns about the controversial plan for a homeless intake center in the city’s northwest side.

“This really didn’t happen the way it should have,” says Saint Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter.

Before eventually getting evacuated by the fire department, city leaders shared their criteria for choosing the grassy plot off Bendix Drive for the facility. 

It came down to finding a space the city could buy that was more than three acres, within city limits, close to a bus stop, and somewhere they could build. 

“The thought of identifying a new site for the New Day center was, let’s try to find a bigger space so we can set up the new facility in a way that sets it up for success from the beginning,” explains South Bend Mayor James Mueller.

The city sees it as the best option for building a brand-new low-barrier facility that can better help the people who stay there, but neighbors and nearby businesses aren't convinced.

They continue to point to issues not far away at the existing Motels4Now, also a low-barrier shelter at an old Knight’s Inn. 

“We have history showing us what’s happening, we’re not guessing,” says Mike Garatoni, Founder of Growing Kids Learning Center.

Garatoni oversees the Growing Kids daycare that’s less than a half mile, or 10-minute walk from the proposed site. 

He already has concerns about safety for his staff, as well as children and families that belong to the daycare. 

“If they get approached by somebody for whatever reason, that’s not going to go well,” Garatoni says. “It doesn’t take much for mom to feel very scared if she has her children with her and somebody, they don’t recognize approaches them.” 

Many have suggested downtown as a potential location where the homeless could be closer to essential services. 

Mayor Mueller says the point of the proposed location is to share the burden. 

“It doesn’t make sense to place the burden of our entire region’s homeless population on one neighborhood,” Mayor Mueller explains. “This is something that we need to have shared responsibility across the city.” 

Despite both the positive and negative feedback from the city’s residents Thursday night, the city still hopes this will be a step in the right direction when it comes to battling the issue of homelessness. 

“This can be a success for both the folks who need the help, but also the neighborhood,” hopes Mayor Mueller. “They can do their part in making sure that we’re addressing these issues in our community.” 

“We want to work together, but we’re not being heard,” Garatoni admits.

City leaders say sex offenders will not be able to live at the intake center, as there is a public park less than a thousand feet from the site. 

When asked how sex offenders will be prohibited from trying to live there, the mayor says the staff will do their due diligence.

Since Thursday’s meeting had to be evacuated during public comment, there will be another one scheduled at a larger venue. The time or date has not been set yet.

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