SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The location of South Bend's low-barrier homeless intake center is still top of mind for city leaders, who approved the purchase of the Bendix Drive plot of land as a possible site, despite public opposition.
It's top of mind for county leaders, who created a task force to undermine the city's efforts to move forward with that site. It's top of mind for those in the city who oppose the site, like neighbors near the Bendix lot, saying it's too dangerous for the surrounding community.
But there are still those who want to see the intake center up and running as soon as possible, like the loyal volunteers of Our Lady of the Road, including Casey Mullaney.
"So this is my neighborhood, this is Monroe Park, we really love living here," Mullaney said. "In 2020, during the summer, we had between 70 and 100 people camped out."
What used to be an Indiana BMV office on S. St. Joseph Street became the site of a tent city at the same time the COVID-19 pandemic left people uncertain and on lockdown.
"That's not coherent with what we believe about human dignity," Mullaney said. "It also isn't good for our neighborhood to have a tent encampment. So we were all, as a neighborhood, very motivated to work with the people who were unhoused and get them inside somewhere safer."
Ultimately, the Motels4Now program started up in South Bend, getting people off the streets and out of neighborhoods.
"We saw a need and we responded to that need," Mullaney said. "So this wasn't intended to be a permanent solution, but we're really proud of the work that motels4now accomplished."
In total, Motels4Now has served over 700 guests, with an average stay of about four months. The short-term housing solution usually has about 120 guests per night, and leadership reports 78% of guests either stay or move up to better housing options.
But it was only ever meant to be a short-term solution, Mullaney confirmed. The long-term vision? A low-barrier homeless intake center. The City of South Bend wants to start building the $14 million facility, but where they want to put it on this plot of land off Bendix Drive has some neighbors protesting and packing recent public meetings about the proposal.
"You know, there's an important human side to this, wanting to support people, and allowing them to achieve the things they want to achieve. But there's also a point here that, you know, if we as a community want to support and solve this problem, and present real solutions, it's going to require us to work together," said a long-time volunteer at Our Lady of the Road and recently added board member, Eddie Jurkovic.
Jurkovic said there will be opposition no matter where the center is located.
"It can't be something that's just 'not in my backyard,'" he said. "There's going to be people who are opposed, and that opposition can't be the reason that we do or don't make a decision about what's best for our whole community."
For Mullaney, the Monroe Park neighborhood serves as an example of how the community can eradicate the danger that often comes with tent encampments or surges of unhoused people in a community.
"I feel like as somebody who lives in a neighborhood where we have seen a lot of homelessness, and we have many people in this neighborhood who are currently housed who used to be unhoused, I really feel confident in saying that the issues that people are bringing up-- I understand people have legitimate fears-- but I think that they're issues that we've seen here in this neighborhood, Monroe Park, they are issues we are capable of overcoming together through a lot of collaboration and a lot of dialogue. And we're very committed to that process," Mullaney said.
Their latest advocacy efforts are in the form of "housing is healing" t-shirts. Community members interested in donating to receive a shirt (limited supply) can email [email protected].