You bought a house near downtown South Bend in a neighborhood that has become a popular location for younger families. Its homes are more affordable, they’re closer to social attractions, and it’s close to your alma mater and employer, the University of Notre Dame. To spur development in the area, the City of South Bend provided a tax break for home buyers.
Recently, a couple of new businesses opened up down the street from your home, including a yoga studio where you take classes after work and an ice cream shop where you take your two-year-old and five-year-old kids on Saturday afternoons. When you’re able to get a babysitter, you enjoy going out to South Bend Cubs baseball games and the new whiskey bar near the riverwalk.
Although your house is close enough to walk to your favorite downtown hangouts, lately you’ve been taking an Uber instead because you’re concerned about safety—you see a lot of people who appear to be homeless hanging out around Main Street, drinking and smoking in alleys.
Now, some of those same people may be living in your neighborhood. The City of South Bend and a local nonprofit organization just announced that they’re partnering to build apartments for people experiencing chronic homelessness just two blocks from your house. You’re worried these apartments will permanently attract people experiencing mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction to your neighborhood, reducing its safety and overall quality of life, which in turn will decrease property values. Will your kids see people drinking or using drugs when they play outside? Will you still feel safe when you walk to shops and restaurants?
You think apartments for chronically homeless people are a great idea to get people permanently off the streets, but you don’t think your neighborhood is the right place for them to be built. This isn’t what you expected when the City of South Bend encouraged development here. You want the City to reduce homelessness, but you also want to protect your own home and family.
How do you decide to respond to the new apartments?
You put your house on the market, and it receives a lot of initial interest from many prospective buyers. After all, it is a beautiful home in a great location. But once the interested parties learn about the new housing development, the offers are significantly less than you’re asking. Unfortunately, it would mean taking a loss on the sale, which you’re financially unable to weather.
Try another option.
A zoning meeting is held at your local library branch. You and several other representatives from the neighborhood show up to speak out against the apartments. Additionally, you rally other local residents with a signed petition.
Ultimately, you’re successful, and the board denies rezoning for the project. The city moves forward, trying to build apartments in other neighborhoods, but their residents also block the development of any new housing for the homeless. As this process continues on for well over a year, the chronically homeless population continues to grow.
More clashes occur in downtown South Bend between business owners and homeless individuals. The tent encampment is forced to disband, and its residents move to a new site in a wooded area just south of your neighborhood. Now, residents of this new homeless encampment cross through your neighborhood on their way to the downtown public library, health clinics, and other social service providers. Interaction with homeless individuals is now occurring more frequently in your neighborhood.
This option didn't provide a long-term solution—try another one.
You decide to take on a more active role by volunteering at an understaffed non-profit downtown that offers services and a limited number of beds to the public. The shelter separates men and women, even if they are married and have children. On Saturdays, you spend a few hours working to provide essential needs like food and showers. You also spend time advocating for others to help join the cause. Eventually, as more volunteers join in, the shelter is able to provide additional beds, but to keep families together, the new apartments are still needed.
While you're helping to make life easier for people experiencing homelessness, they still need permanent housing. Try another option.
While you have concerns about the impact of these apartments on your own safety and investment, you can see how important it is for them to be built. People will continue to live on the street unsupported unless the community invests in permanent solutions like this.
Another neighborhood already blocked a similar proposal. If it's blocked in your neighborhood as well, you doubt the City of South Bend will have the resources to try again. You start to talk to your neighbors, going door to door to get them to sign on to a petition of neighborhood support. You hear significant resistance and even anger that you’re “turning against” the neighborhood.
It looks like getting community approval is going to be an uphill battle. Do you want to try another solution?
After thinking through the options and possible drawbacks, you decide it will be better for you if someone more senior in the Mayor’s Office takes the lead on addressing homelessness.
As winter approaches and temperatures drop, encampment residents start seeking the services of shelters in town since staying out overnight is simply too dangerous—they could get frostbite injuries or even die. Some of the encampment residents move into abandoned buildings and light fires to keep warm, which leads to frequent calls to the fire department.
The overnight shelters are full every night, but it isn’t clear that everyone has a place to stay because you don’t have a way to track the wellbeing of each person. Shelter staff report that they’re turning away people every night because there aren’t enough beds available across the city to meet demand.
Local business owners are temporarily appeased because the encampment is disbanding, but they worry that when temperatures warm up, the problem will begin all over again. Some of them are asking what the Mayor’s Office do in the long-term to address homelessness in South Bend. Worse yet, your office starts to receive forceful criticism in The New Yorker, the South Bend Tribune, and on social media for your inaction.
The seasonal expenses for the city are beginning to rack up: the cost of repeated fire emergencies, police department calls, emergency care and food at the weather amnesty shelter. It turns out, doing nothing has had significant financial and human costs.
Try a more proactive solution.