South Bend names local pastor as new homelessness coordinator
This week South Bend Mayor James Mueller announced a new appointee to spearhead the city’s efforts on homelessness.
Carl Hetler, who has spent the past five years as the pastor of Broadway Christian Parish, will be the city’s new homelessness coordinator, serving as Mueller’s point person in collaborating with the city, service providers and St. Joseph County officials on efforts to find housing and care for residents.
“As the city and its partners do more than ever to help our unhoused neighbors, better coordination is needed,” Mueller said in a release. “I’m grateful that Carl Hetler has answered the call to serve in this important role and look forward to working with him as we build more permanent supportive housing units and provide critical services with community partners.”
Though housing insecurity has been a topic dating back years in the area, the homelessness coordinator role was first proposed in 2020 after a number of people began sleeping outside in various tent encampments and were cleared out of a city owned lot by South Bend police officers.
In August of that year, the city created a homelessness implementation group comprised of around 20 representatives from local service providers, businesses, city employees and residents. The group commenced the city create the homelessness coordinator position.
Two affordable housing developers, Anne Mannix and Chicago-based Betsy Benito, filled the position from 2021 to late last year and focused on designing a new low-barrier shelter.
According to a release announcing his hire, Hetler’s role will focus more on coordinating the various services the city and other charities provide. A city spokeswoman said Helter will start on July 1 and will earn up to $52,000 in 2023.
“Our community has been calling for someone to coordinate services, programs, places and people who work for the homeless for a long time,” Hetler said in a release. “I will ensure that we continue to show our commitment to care for each person in need.”
He will also serve as a liaison between South Bend and St. Joseph County on the issue of homelessness, where a couple of recent items have laid clear the differing approaches between the two jurisdictions.
In late March, South Bend gave $2.5 million of American Rescue Plan money to keep Motels4Now afloat after St. Joseph County Republicans decided not to give the program more funding.
That money will also pay for renovations to the Center for the Homeless building on South Michigan Street, which will serve as the city’s main weather amnesty shelter in the winter.
Motels4Now has drawn criticism from some officials and residents citing nuisance issues, though proponents argue the converted motel on Lincoln Way West serves an important role in giving immediate housing to people who would not be taken in by other shelters due to drug and alcohol requirements.
Motels4Now is operated by Our Lady of the Road Church, and was funded by St. Joseph County APR dollars until this spring when South Bend stepped in. Stakeholders have said they’re making plans to build a New Day Intake Center that will provide a more stable location to serve as a low-barrier center and provide wrap-around services.
The city also stepped in to fund a behavioral crisis center when St. Joseph County Commissioners tabled the proposal in December. The center will be run by Oaklawn and will be a place for people experiencing mental health crises to receive care for up to 24-hours.
Per Helter’s biography on Broadway Christian Parish's website, he is from Berkley, Calif., and moved to South Bend in 2010. Since then, he’s been the pastor for a number of churches before settling in with Broadway Christian on the southeast side of the city.