On a warm afternoon in May, Lisa Loww pulled into its discreet side lot and parked her car. Her friend Tracy was riding shotgun. Loww, a youthful forty-year-old with long brown hair who was born and raised in South Bend, wore a baseball cap, bluejeans, and flip-flops.
In addition to this and other spots in the woods, she visits ad-hoc shelters in a garage, in a factory, and on the lawn of a church. Shouldering bags of water, food, and toiletries, Loww and Tracy headed behind Romantix into a few acres of scrubby, head-high half-growth, dotted with trash.
Until recently, Loww explained, the land was owned by the city.
It was purchased for around fifty-six thousand dollars. The name of the buyer has not been disclosed. South Bend has a handful of homeless shelters, which, together, can accommodate as many as a hundred or so people. But they are only open for certain periods of time and provide limited help, and most of them restrict their services to those who are sober, which rules out a ificant portion of the homeless population. On a recent morning, for instance, the beds at Hope Ministries were completely full, and the Center for the Homeless was also at capacity, with two possible openings in the near future.
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Broadway Christian parish had no beds; it offers meals, showers, and laundry on certain days. Life Treatment Centers, which is for addicts, not the homeless, had a few openings for men who met their criteria. She was referring, primarily, to the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigiegwho is running for President, and who has pointed to his success in improving life in South Bend as evidence of his readiness to run the country. A tent camp formed under a viaduct downtown, where, by latedozens of people were sleeping.
The South Bend Tribune began covering the issue steadily and in depth. One reporter, Jeff Parrott, has since written more than three dozen stories on the subject, many of which ran on the front .
The paper also set up a dedicated Web for its ongoing coverage. But critics, such as Loww, say that the mayor has failed to follow through, and that he has not made the problem enough of a priority. In the woods, Loww and I came upon a jury-rigged enclosure constructed out of canvas, blankets, tarps, and sundry other materials.
A white man wearing a trim goatee, baseball cap, and tucked shirt stepped out. Next we met Lee and Ruthie, a homeless couple in their thirties, who stood over a pile of blankets, a broken-down tent, and overflowing boxes of personal items. As is the case in most cities, pinpointing the of homeless people in South Bend is difficult. The Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees an annual point-in-time count, but, in recent years, it has not broken down the data except by state.
Joseph County, where South Bend is situated.
Joseph figure seems low. The E. There is likely a connection between homelessness and rising affluence, but it is not simply a matter of visibility. A study from the Journal of Urban Affairspublished infound that a hundred-dollar increase in monthly rent in larger cities was associated with a fifteen-per-cent rise in homelessness.
In smaller cities, according to the study, the effect was even more pronounced.
The median cost of rent in South Bend went up nearly six per cent between andthe most recent years with data available. During that same period, gross rent costs went up less than three per cent in the rest of Indiana. The goal was to demolish or improve abandoned buildings; the city hit its target two months before the deadline it had set.
The working group on homelessness that was assembled by Buttigieg met for the first time in February, Around the same time, a South Bend businessman, Kevin Smith, invited Tom Rebman, a retired Navy lieutenant and middle-school teacher who has become a prominent advocate for the homeless, to visit the city and offer his suggestions. All that is truly needed to solve this is community and political will. In August of that year, the working group released a twenty- report detailing its conclusions.
Experts widely believe that the most effective means of countering chronic homelessness is through supportive housingwhich comes with mental- and physical-health services and is offered without any kind of time limit.
The intake center would offer case management and medical assistance, and employees there would work to place people in the supportive housing units established by the city. Thirty-two units of supportive housing opened in latein a development called the Oliver Apartments.
Much of the cost—around six million dollars—was covered by the South Bend Heritage Foundation, a long-standing community-development corporation, which oversees the property. Management and service providers were contracted to assist tenants in the development. According to the official, they will be scattered among existing housing developments, as determined by a service provider, over the next twelve to eighteen months.
Oaklawn, a Christian health-care organization, will offer residents transportation, as well as mental- and physical-health resources. David Matthews, a thirty-five-year-old real-estate developer in South Bend, told me that he has been in discussions with the city for more than a year about a property that he owns and which he believes could serve as such a center.
Matthews has been described as the real-estate equivalent of Mayor Pete : a young, ambitious white guy focussed on bringing prosperity to his home town. If the city were to buy South Michigan, it would make improvements to the building before selling it back to Matthews for the original purchase price, with credits for any renovations, Matthews said.
This strikes him as a win for the city, for him, and for the homeless. Buttigieg will be gone, to the White House or somewhere else. His administration has made people freeze.
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I saw someone shooting heroin on Michigan Avenue the other day. We could have offered a national model on the issue.
Not everyone I spoke to in South Bend was pessimistic. Two weeks after my visit, the church received a notice that the handful of tent dwellers on the lawn were violating city ordinances and had one week to leave. Loww helped them find other places to squat, including the bushes behind Romantix.
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She texted me a few days later. It just has me thinking: What will happen if we have an emergency weather situation? They have nowhere in this city that will accept them. The latter requires far more vision, strength, and persistence. I still have my eye on South Bend and Buttigieg. As a mayor, Buttigieg has had to address the issue of homelessness more directly than, for instance, some of the senators in the race.
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But there is also the question of how one talks about the subject. Proposals to erect housing for the homeless often incite panic in gentrifying neighborhoods, but converting garages into habitable dwellings could be a harmonious solution. By Dana Goodyea r.
By Katy Waldma n. Charles Bethea is a staff writer at The New Yorker. e-mail address.
. California Chronicles.