You have an office in downtown South Bend in an area that is experiencing revitalization. New luxury apartment buildings have been built, cocktail bars and upscale restaurants have opened, and high-tech companies have established offices in what is now being called the “Renaissance District.” This development has been good for your business.
At the same time, people living on the street nearby have set up tents and appear to be permanently settling in. You’ve noticed an increase in the number of them hanging out on your block. There’s more trash on the sidewalks, you’ve seen people urinating in alleys, and reports of vandalism have increased. Some of your clients told you that they don’t feel safe coming to your office anymore. This development is bad for your business.
You find out that with support from the City of South Bend, a local nonprofit that provides services to homeless individuals has purchased a building two doors down from your office and plans to turn it into an overnight weather amnesty shelter. The shelter will serve people experiencing homelessness who need protection at night during the freezing cold months in South Bend, November 1 through April 1. While the new shelter is intended to replace the encampment, your business will be right between it and sites where many homeless individuals get daily meals, likely increasing their activity around your business.
What is your response to the new weather amnesty shelter?
You figure that if you make life difficult for homeless people downtown, they’ll find another place to gather. You also want to send a clear message to the city that you don’t think homeless individuals should be allowed to loiter or camp on public streets, especially around tax revenue-generating businesses like yours.
You start calling the police whenever homeless individuals cause a disturbance near your office, even minor ones like talking loudly or asking passersby for cigarettes. The first few times, the police respond quickly and either force the homeless individuals to leave the block or arrest them.
However, the last time you called the police, the officer who answered said, “You again? You know how much time I waste every time you call? I’m still doing the paperwork for your last complaint, and the person you called about is back on the street, doing the same thing again.” You’ve noticed on a couple of occasions that the same person you called the police about is back outside of your business a few hours after the police made them leave.
You wonder if this approach is deterring homeless individuals from gathering downtown or if it’s just irritating everyone and distracting the police from more important and productive work. The number of people who live on the street doesn’t appear to have gotten smaller.
This option doesn’t solve the issue—it only causes trouble for everyone involved. Try another one.
You approach some of the homeless individuals who hang out around your business regularly. You explain that when they gather there, it scares away your customers. You share information about housing and social service agencies in the area and offer to give them some money if they find somewhere to stay at night and gather elsewhere during the day.
The homeless individuals listen to your recommendations, take your money, and leave, but then most of them reappear after a couple of days. Some tell you that they ran into problems finding a place to sleep since the shelters in town don't have enough beds. Others just promise to go away again if you give them more money.
This option provided a very short-term solution. Try another one.
You reach out to other business owners in the area to talk about the challenge of homelessness in general and how the proposed site for weather amnesty will impact you. You know they’re people of action who want to find solutions, not just talk about them.
Some members of the group have deep empathy for people experiencing homelessness and want to help them get off the streets. Others are angry about the encampment and the weather amnesty shelter and want to move all housing and social service agencies out of the Renaissance District. A few of the groups’ members even express a mix of these two viewpoints.
Your group meets for nearly 6 months, brings in outside experts as consultants, and comes up with an action list. However, you need support from city officials to implement several of the proposed solutions on your list, but there’s no office or personnel within local government dedicated to addressing homelessness. Staff in the Mayor’s Office seem very reluctant to get involved with the issue.
In addition, creating more permanent housing for the homeless will require a lot of money, and funding available from the City of South Bend and the State of Indiana won’t cover all of the costs. You calculate that you could raise enough in donations from local businesses and philanthropists to build a 30-unit apartment building, but you don’t know where funds for costs like ongoing maintenance, security, and resident counseling will come from. Your plans are at a standstill until you can find a nonprofit partner to manage the housing facility and provide services to its residents, who will have challenges with living in a home again.
Your group doesn’t have all the resources it needs to implement its solutions. Try another option.
You worry that the weather amnesty shelter will disrupt and devalue your business. You think that if you allow it to open nearby, you’ll open the door to having a permanent site for homeless services nearby and see a big increase in the number of homeless individuals in downtown South Bend.
You think it’s urgent that you take a stand now, so you contact your legal advisors to see how you can prevent this development. They say you can file an injunction arguing that the weather amnesty shelter negatively impacts your rights. This will put you at odds with the City of South Bend, local social service agencies, other local business owners, and some local homeowners, not to mention people living on the streets. You decide to move ahead with filing an injunction anyway, and a couple of other nearby business owners who share your concerns join you in this legal action.
In response, the nonprofit contracted by the City of South Bend offers to find a new location for its weather amnesty shelter after one year if you’re willing to drop the injunction, explaining that they won’t have time to secure a new location before the temperatures drop below freezing at night. The nonprofit also works out a plan with you and other owners of businesses near the shelter to keep streets clean, reduce crime, and discourage panhandling. You agree to this plan since it's only for one year, and you figure that at least people will be off the streets at night.
Over the next year, you notice that the number of homeless individuals around downtown South Bend doesn’t decrease. Fewer people sleep on the streets in the winter, but as spring arrives and the weather amnesty shelter closes, they begin camping in public spaces again. You realize that the weather amnesty shelter only provided temporary relief.
This option provided only a temporary solution. Try another one.
You know that if investment in the Renaissance District continues, your business could benefit tremendously. However, you don’t have time to address the homelessness issue that currently threatens to undermine this growth. You start thinking that your best solution will be to move your business outside of downtown South Bend.
Relocating won’t be easy: Property will cost more, and you may have to re-establish some of your client contacts. However, you figure that this extra expense and legwork will outweigh the risks of staying in your current location.
You acquire office space in nearby Mishawaka, Indiana. Some of your clients are happy because they feel safer visiting this new location, but unfortunately, others don’t want to travel to it, as you’re now farther away and there’s often heavy traffic in the area. Right away, you see a 20% drop in business, so you have to start devoting more time to securing new clients than you anticipated. Your workdays become much longer.
Also, your move damaged your relationship with the South Bend business community, which has been working for decades to revitalize an area known as the “Renaissance District.” They point out to you that a vibrant downtown is essential to attracting new people to South Bend, who are desperately needed after many decades of population decline. You lose a few clients who opted to remain downtown and are now trying to find solutions to homelessness.
Even though you’ve moved to an area where you don’t see people experiencing homelessness every day, the issue still impacts the greater community, causing economic hardship and making the city unattractive to investors. You realize that simply avoiding homelessness still negatively affects your business in the long term.
Try another solution.