By Andre Waddell Aug 25, 2019
Over the past two months, there has been a great deal of community discussion around the proposed development of permanent supportive housing (PSH) along the 1500 block of West Washington Street for people experiencing homelessness.
The group proposing the development, South Bend Heritage, city of South Bend and Oaklawn, should be commended for their efforts to develop a supportive apartment community where vulnerable, chronically homeless individuals can get help and begin to stabilize their lives.
The responses from neighbors, business owners or churches near the proposed site have been mixed. Concerns about property values, crime and the site selection have been expressed by many, including those in opposition.
While some want more investment from the city in the neighborhood, others are worried the new homeless residents will be an unrecoverable blight on the neighborhood’s future growth potential.
As a person who was homeless as child, who grew up and is currently residing near the proposed site, I can sincerely empathize with all. More so, those needing not only the supportive services but a supportive neighborhood and infrastructure.
The proposing group indicated that the funding for the development is secured but capped and that potential sites are not as readily available as some have professed. Being as objective as possible, my West Washington neighborhood site is a great fit.
It is just blocks from a bus line, in a mixed-use neighborhood, near churches that often serve the less fortunate, as well as grocery shopping, laundromat and access to health care services. Having PSH part of our city’s plan to address homelessness, most seem to agree, is a logical approach to help break the cycle of homelessness, while curbing shelter stays, emergency room visits and victimization.
If rezoning of the site is approved by the city council on Monday, the 22 apartments won’t be ready until mid-2021. In the meantime, winter’s coming; our shelters will be filling; and, our emergency rooms stretched thin and other vital services will be at capacity.
There will always be people experiencing homelessness, concerns of drug use, crime and property values loss. Our community is not alone: Plymouth, Goshen and many other towns and cities across the state are incorporating PSH into neighborhoods just like mine to address the homeless crisis.
It’s important to remember that PSH is only one solution for those that want to be housed and begin to make a positive change in their lives. PSH is not for everyone and does not mean anything goes.
The proposing group has indicated that security for the new apartments will be comprehensive. No sex offenders or those with a history of serious violence will allowed to participate. Residents can and will be evicted if they refuse to abide by the rules.
Some may want to hold out for a site that everyone will accept or a new partnership that could bring fresh hope to alleviate frustrations and doubt. To delay this project now for political reasons, a potential site near Notre Dame or IUSB, or due to fears of homeless crime would be unfortunate for our community. There is clearly a need now for this housing and supportive services; it readies our community for the future.
It is fair to challenge the incoming mayor and city officials, as well as organizations serving the homeless, to sharpen their focus on how to enhance the approach going forward, but the time for us as a neighborhood and community to move forward with PSH and for the city council to approve the zoning for this project is now!
I know what it means to be homeless and need services. “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
My city, my community and my neighborhood with its access to services is the right location.
Andre Waddell is a resident of South Bend’s Near West Side Neighborhood.