When it comes to South Bend’s ongoing challenges with the homeless population, Mayor James Mueller this past week summed up the issue succinctly.
“There is no easy solution,” he said.
It was actually an understatement.
The issue has for years frustrated mayors, who are right to feel the city bears an unfair share of the burden because the homeless congregate around service providers, mostly in and around downtown.
But he’s also right that allowing the city and advocates to create makeshift tent cities on vacant lots is a potentially dangerous option — especially during the coronavirus pandemic. The mayor has twice broken up tent cities that formed along Michigan Street.
Mario Sims, pastor of Doulos Chapel, stepped in to offer his site as a temporary shelter, buying the city a bit of time to figure out a longer-term plan.
Advocates, meanwhile, are right in insisting that it’s well past time to stop dancing around potential solutions and actually try to implement some.
To be fair to the city, some efforts to find shelter and housing have in recent years been met by a “not in my backyard” resistance by many residents.
So how does the city move forward? The cycle of pop-up tent cities, followed by a move to break them up and a tense standoff with police, followed by hand-wringing debates and then opposition, needs to end.
Mueller has proposed that the city run a winter amnesty center in the Salvation Army building. That’s one good step. He also wants partners throughout the region to pitch in. He’s right. This problem shouldn’t be South Bend’s alone to grapple with.
Some members of the Common Council, including Lori Hamann and Tim Scott, say the city needs to reconvene a task force previously established to plan long-term solutions for homeless services. That’s another good step.
A center in the winter, a revamped task force effort and outreach to potential partners outside the city are all good ways to kick-start a new, revived effort to address homelessness.
For their part, many city residents may have to agree that “no” can’t be the first and only answer.
The mayor was spot-on: There are no easy solutions.
But as events the last couple of weeks have shown, the problem isn’t going away, either.
Time for a new round of creative ideas, with several viewpoints at the table and building on good ideas that were floated before. Let’s hope that this time, urgency, practical solutions and open minds can win the day.