Buttigieg announces new state homeless funding, scraps gateway center plan
By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune, Aug 20, 2019
SOUTH BEND — Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivered two pieces of news that were warmly received by residents and common council members at a council committee meeting Monday: Although it was 86 degrees outside, he already has a way to shelter the chronically homeless at night this winter, and his administration has scrapped plans for a gateway center to serve that population.
Buttigieg said the city recently bought the vacant former Salvation Army building at Main and Monroe streets for $299,000 and will convert the northern part, which had housed a retail store, into a weather amnesty shelter.
Last year council members voiced frustration when Hope Ministries, using city money for a second straight year, didn’t open a weather amnesty site by Nov. 1.
After delays in obtaining state fire and building safety code approval, the shelter, in a temporarily leased industrial building at 121 Tutt St., opened Nov. 29. The council Dec. 11 unanimously passed a resolution urging the administration to start working on the plans earlier this year.
As in past years, the site will be operated by Hope Ministries, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Nov. 1 to April 1, with capacity of around 70, and the Center for the Homeless offering its lobby for any overflow.
Buttigieg said the city also will no longer build a permanent supportive housing gateway center, which was envisioned as a place to immediately house the chronically homeless, identify their barriers to escaping homelessness and connect them with services, and transition them to permanent supportive housing elsewhere. The administration made the decision partly because of its difficulty in finding a place where neighbors wouldn’t object to its proximity, Buttigieg said.
But he said his staff also realized that more permanent supportive housing units, such as those in the Oliver Apartments — funded partly by the city and run by the nonprofit South Bend Heritage Foundation — were more important than a gateway center. And the state recently awarded the city and South Bend Heritage $2.3 million to build a second PSH apartment building, plus additional money for vouchers that the chronically homeless could use to rent housing throughout the city.
“Our main service providers expressed concern, saying, look, if you build a gateway center but there’s not enough permanent housing for it to be a gateway to, it just becomes another shelter that’s not as good as the permanent shelters that we have,” Buttigieg said after the meeting. “It made us go back to the beginnings of our strategy, adjust and come up with a new direction.”
According to surveys and interviews done by Center for the Homeless staff, there are about 109 chronically homeless in the downtown South Bend area. Doing the math, Buttigieg said, if you subtract 18 PSH vouchers that the city has funded for this year through a grant to the Center for the Homeless, 40 scattered site vouchers paid for with the new state money, and 20 units that would be added in a second proposed PSH apartment building, the number of unsheltered chronically homeless would drop to 31.
“It’s perhaps the biggest leap forward in our ability to tackle this problem since the opening of the Center for the Homeless 30 years ago,” Buttigieg told council members. “This represents a piece of the puzzle but one of the biggest pieces we’ve ever been able to put in place. I thank the council for their leadership on this.”
But there remain some challenges and unanswered questions. After the meeting, Buttigieg’s deputy chief of staff, Genevieve Miller, acknowledged that none of the 18 scattered site vouchers this year have yet become active.
“The Center for the Homeless is in conversations with landlords currently to locate those over the coming months,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult to find landlords. It’s more to find spaces that are working for the people they’re looking to house.”
Miller said the administration is “very confident” it will find places for the 40 new scattered sites next year.
Council member Oliver Davis asked Buttigieg and Hope Ministries Excecutive Director Steve Matteson where the homeless will find warmth this winter during the day since the St. Joseph County Public Library’s main site downtown, where many seek shelter during the day, will be closed for renovation. Buttigieg said the city was looking into transportation to other library branches but nothing has been finalized.
Several council members also hit on a point that Buttigieg has raised in the past: the need to seek funding help from other area governments, such as the city of Mishawaka and St. Joseph County, since people from outside South Bend tend to migrate downtown.
Council member Jake Teshka asked Buttigieg whether he was worried about an “if you build it, they will come” scenario, in which more homeless people will come downtown as word spreads about the initiatives.
Steve Camalieri, executive director of the Center for the Homeless, said he’s often heard the “myth” that the center is “importing homelessness” during his 15 years running the shelter, and he said up to 87% of people the shelter serves are “from here, have a connection here, or have family here.”
“I’ve also heard the myth that Notre Dame underwrites the Center for the Homeless, when that couldn’t be more false,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
But Camalieri offered to help lean on surrounding communities to start contributing some funding for solutions.
“I have spoken with (Mishawaka) Mayor (Dave) Wood, I have spoken with people in St. Joseph County,” Camalieri said. “I admit it wasn’t very recently. I think this is the time now to go to them and ask for their support. We’re all in this together and we need their help.”
The city, again partnering with South Bend Heritage, on Tuesday will seek Area Plan Commission approval for the 20-unit PSH apartment building in the 1500 block of West Washington Street. The project has drawn opposition from neighbors, several of whom spoke Monday night.