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St. Joseph County Commissioners approve one-year Motels4Now extension following investigation

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Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE
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The St. Joseph County Commissioners unanimously approved a one-year extension of the Motels4Now homeless housing program Tuesday. The approval comes after an earlier veto and subsequent county investigation into program Operator Our Lady of the Road.

Created in August 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Motels4Now provides low-barrier shelter for the chronically homeless in the Knights Inn on South Bend’s West Side.

It’s coordinated by the nonprofit Our Lady of the Road, but the county pays for the rooms and staff operating costs.

On Feb. 8, the St. Joseph County Council unanimously voted to extend the program until March 2023 at a cost of $1.65 million, funded through the county’s share of federal COVID relief dollars through the American Rescue Plan.

But the commissioners unanimously vetoed the extension two weeks ago after questions were raised regarding cash rental assistance payments from program operator Our Lady of the Road to former motel residents now renting space in the former Madison Center.

The building is owned by local developer Dave Matthews, and the South Bend Tribune reported he may be in violation of city zoning ordinances.

But last week, a county investigation into Our Lady of the Road concluded that there was “no illegal activity or wrongdoing.”

During the Tuesday meeting, county attorney Mike Misch said the organization was very helpful and turned over hundreds of records.

“Ultimately, I think our conclusion was these are good people doing a good thing, but maybe in an unorganized way,” Misch said. “We don’t have any problem moving forward.”

And so, the commissioners unanimously approved the one-year extension of Motels4Now.

Commissioner Andy Kostielney said they would have preferred not to veto it in the first place, instead just putting it on pause during the investigation.

“But that wasn’t available to us — the only tool in our toolbox was a hammer, so that was the only tool we had to be able to use,” Kostielney said. “We wanted to make sure that we could answer the questions, that everything was being done the way it should be.”

“This shows the continued commitment of St. Joseph County moving forward with the work Our Lady of the Road is doing, and hopefully we can help them be more efficient and more effective as well,” he added.

The approval now goes back to the County Council, which must authorize the funding. If it does so, the program will run until March 2023.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.