South Bend seeking homeless housing solutions
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - South Bend authorities cleared a homeless encampment Tuesday in downtown South Bend after the city declared the residents in it to be trespassing on government property. City leaders are now looking for ways to help homeless people find a safe place to stay.
The clearing of the encampment on Michigan and Monroe Streets did not come without resistance. Three people were arrested for criminal trespassing and resisting law enforcement.
South Bend Mayor James Mueller said the solution will be in finding more permanent housing for the homeless population.
"So, going forward, I maintain that the housing first is the best practice," Mueller said. "I think we can do more research on that, but I think we're going to find that is the best practice across the country and trying to get individuals sheltered and stabilized is better than having them remain unsheltered."
One person who was kicked off the lot said he is out of options.
"Where are we going to go? Where are we going to go?" Gary O'Bryant, a former resident of the now cleared downtown encampment, said. “We're moving to this church down here. They said they're going to get things taken care of. They gave us 24 hours. That's just to stall so nobody can get hurt out here. That's all that is. We know what it is, but what can we do?"
South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said the city has provided plenty of options.
"There's the homeless shelter, the Hope Rescue Mission," Chief Ruszkowski said. "We have all kinds of services. We have veterans' services. There's an ample amount of opportunities here in South Bend."
O'Bryant said those opportunities are not enough.
"You know with the virus and everything, the center for the homeless isn't taking anybody," O'Bryant said. "Hope Ministries is shutdown. Winter Amnesty is shut down. Where are we going to go?"
Part of Mayor James Mueller's proposal to the South Bend Common Council Tuesday night was re-opening Winter Amnesty this winter as a short-term solution while the city looks for long-term housing.
One volunteer said shelter is exactly what the homeless population needs.
"There are buildings all over town," said Mark Johnson, a local pastor who volunteers to help the homeless every weekend. "If we can get one to be able to have them be able to go in and shower, go in and get out of the heat. This is what we're praying for."
The city said it gave the residents of the encampment 72 hours’ notice to vacate the lot instead of the mandatory 24 hours. Chief Ruszkowski called that "beyond reasonable."