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Commentary: New Day

Rendering of proposed New Day Intake Center.
Photo Provided, city of South Bend
Rendering of proposed New Day Intake Center.

The intransigent resistance of some to the City of South Bend’s proposed New Day low barrier, housing first strategy of providing shelter to our homeless neighbors is quite remarkable. After all, the federal government adopted this approach as its go-to model back in the days of the George W Bush administration. It did so because it works better. As the City notes in its presentation, a systematic review of 26 studies found that housing-first shelters with supplementary medical services were 88% more effective at reducing homelessness and 41% more effective at improving housing stability than treatment- based programs. Housing-first approaches also lower the cost of caring for people who are homeless. In 2013, the state of Indiana found that it would save $1,149 per person by pairing a housing first model with permanent supportive housing sites, such as South Bend Heritage’s Hope Avenue Homes. It’s now the State’s policy as well.

Our Lady The Road’s Motels 4 Now program, as important as it is, is only a bridge to a true housing-first program. It doesn’t have all the facets. Though this program offers many useful services, they are not housed on site. As the name suggests, the facility is not a purpose-built one – rather a motel adapted to address an emergency situation. Any shortcomings that it may have are not predictive of the outcomes of this more comprehensive program. You might think folks with concerns about Motels 4 Now would be among the strongest advocates for a more complete approach. But that’s not how it seems.

The question isn’t “Should we build this?” only “Where do we build this?”

There has been some pushback on the most recent site selected. To better understand the limited options available, I’d encourage everyone to check the City of South Bend website link to their homelessness resources. There you’ll read about the process that they went through to try to determine eligible sites. It turns out that there are very few viable ones.

Some folks have suggested that Ignition Park would be a more logical location. But that isn’t an option. Ignition Park is under a voluntary Remediation Program through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management that prevents residential development on the site. It may be quite some time before anyone can build dwellings there.

The city report also notes that the City and New Day engaged with St. Joseph County elected officials to discuss possible sites for the intake center outside the city limits, including a site on Old Cleveland Road and the Portage Manor site. But county officials declined to assist with placement of the facility. (Isn’t it interesting that some of those very county officials are among those so vocal in opposition to the city site currently under consideration?)

It begins to look as if it actually IS a “Not In My Back Yard” issue (despite the claims to the contrary) – unless it’s folks who somehow feel that the poor must be punished for being poor. Or perhaps it is more useful for some if local homelessness remains an issue, rather than a problem solved. In any case, I think I’m not alone when I say human beings need and deserve a home that provides safety from the elements and other risks. Not just for some, but for everyone.

Citizens are asked from time to time to look to the greater good of their community. It is everyone’s right (and perhaps even a duty) to hold feet to the fire should things go awry. But halting a much-needed program that’s both more humane and cost effective just because it’s possible that there could be challenges, simply makes no sense. It’s time for the rope-a-dope resistance to come to an end.

Great care went into selecting this proposed site. No site is going to please everyone. It’s time to stop trying.

Don Wheeler is a board member on the Community Forum for Economic Justice of St. Joseph County.