Park benches have been removed to deter homeless population

NOW: Park benches have been removed to deter homeless population

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind.-- Public benches and seating have been removed from Michigan City's downtown in the latest move to deter the homeless population from loitering.  

The move was ordered by Mayor Duane Parry a week before the great Lakes Boat Show, with no immediate plans to put them back.  

 Both Michigan City councilmembers and homeless outreach advocates say they had no prior warning that the benches were to be removed.  

“It kind of grew like wildfire. Just the conversation about when it happened, why it happened and then, later on, the conversation about the unhoused population,” said Nancy Nichols.  

Nichols is a pastor at First United Methodist Church, also a soup kitchen that serves between 150 and 200 meals on any given day. It became clear, she said, it was an attempt to deter the city’s unhoused from the downtown, touristy area.  

“I think it’s short-sighted,” she said. “For one, the assumption that the majority of people who use the benches are unhoused, I think, is an assumption. Like there’s an assumption that the majority of people who come to the soup kitchen are unhoused. The majority of them are not.”

ABC57’s Annie Kate spoke with Mayor Parry about his decision.  

“I just decided something needed to be done to kind of spark it, and when I did, it sparked it,” he said.    

He is referring to sparking the conversation about public safety and decency downtown, and said panhandling and unruly behaviors were becoming a nuisance.

“Our population of homeless and panhandlers has increased dramatically,” Parry said. “We don’t want people that come to Michigan City to feel uneasy on weekends, and we don’t want our own citizens to feel uneasy during the week.”  

But for Mary Markowski, who says she is currently homeless, removing public benches doesn’t make any sense.

“You’ve got tourists coming in here, this is your major attractive town, and you’re going to pull the benches out?” she said. “You pull new people out, you want revenue, so what are you doing? They want to come out and have a sandwich, they want to sit outside, they want to sit down. Why are you going to take a comfort away from them?”

And advocates like Nichols agree.  

“Taking away places to build community is not a good way to develop community,” she said. “And it’s within community that people find health and healing.”  

Parry said he’ll start looking into replacing some of the benches.    

"It's not my goal to inconvenience everyone and make their life unhappy,” he said. “I'm trying to decide right now how many of the park benches to put back. And we'll take it one step at a time, baby steps."

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