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St. Joseph County Commissioners put together task force to find alternative sites in latest clash over intake center

St. Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter points to a map of homeless services in South Bend during a press conference on Feb. 7, 2024 at the County-City Building.
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
St. Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter points to a map of homeless services in South Bend during a press conference on Feb. 7, 2024 at the County-City Building.

St. Joseph County officials continued their hand wringing over South Bend’s proposed low-barrier homeless shelter on Wednesday, announcing they are setting up a task force to find an alternative site.

St. Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter announced the task force will be comprised of both Democratic and Republican county officials, as well as representatives from the business community. No Democratic county officials attended Wednesday's press conference, however.

Dieter and others have decried the proposed location off of Bendix drive near the airport, claiming it’s too close to a school and other businesses.

The county task force now wants the city to slow down and consider other sites even though the county has not offered to provide any funding toward the project.

"It's a city issue of course because they're putting up the money, but it affects people in the city and the county," said Joe Thomas, who represents the county council district where the intake center would go.

The search for a different site comes after a back and forth between Dieter and South Bend Mayor James Mueller where the mayor said the city would consider sites if members of the community proposed them. The city has previously discussed multiple different county-owned parcels of land, including the lot where Portage Manor sits vacant, but no agreement was reached.

On Wednesday, Dieter said the county offered to give the city a parcel of land near Fellows Street and Ohio Street south of downtown. That site is adjacent to the Juvenile Justice Center, but in a statement, the city said it is too close to the center as well as to the Boys and Girls Club school to be viable. The city has also attempted to put a center south of downtown back during Mayor Pete Buttigieg's administration but the idea was scrapped after heavy opposition from neighbors.

“The City is glad to hear County officials acknowledge the need for low barrier homeless services in our community and would welcome back a County-City partnership that existed until last year," city spokeswoman Allison Zeithammer said in a statement. "We urgently need a site and cannot delay forward motion. We hope the County’s process moves swiftly, and the County Commissioners reconsider County-owned sites like Portage Manor.

Mueller has repeatedly said the city has done extensive surveys and looked at all city-owned land, though he said if people bring proposals forward, the city will consider them.

“I think it’s a good thing that we're going to attempt to do. To give the mayor spots he could either say yes or no,” Dieter said.

The inception of the task force comes after Dieter and other Republicans cried foul about the possibility of registered sex offenders being close to a school and daycare at the proposed site. However, they did not point out there are already nine registered sex offenders who live within a mile of the proposed site as is.

Meanwhile South Bend’s redevelopment commission is set to vote on a purchase agreement for the Bendix site at its Thursday morning meeting. Mueller has said that the purchase of the land does not mean the center will immediately go up. The land would still need to be rezoned, which requires the city's council to approve.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.