Winter shelter planned for Goshen homeless

Elkhart Truth file photo / Dani MessickResidents of a homeless encampment in Goshen this past summer were told that the city was going to clear the area, and they were directed to nearby shelters instead.

GOSHEN — Months after the city removed an encampment near the canal, advocates for the homeless in Goshen want to ensure people in need are still taken care of this winter.

Mindy Morehead, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and Homeless Coalition Chair Kevin Farmwald told Goshen City Council about their plans for providing shelter over the next few months. Without the funds needed to build and staff a permanent shelter, they instead formed a plan to provide 30-day stays at three area churches.

The city was asked to help fund security at the churches by contributing about $26,000. Morehead said the Community Foundation of Elkhart County has already given $8,000 toward the cost.

Mayor Jeremy Stutsman signaled a willingness to provide the rest of the money needed. He said the city could split the request for the remaining $18,000 between the 2019 and 2020 budgets.

‘Homelessness is here’

In presenting the request, Morehead and Farmwald expressed a hope that “out of sight” doesn’t mean “out of mind” for the city’s homeless population.

“By the city supporting our effort, not only does it say something about the type of city we want to be, it also saves taxpayers money,” Farmwald said. “It has been shown that providing shelter cuts down on police calls, arrests, incarcerations, court costs, ambulance calls and the number and length of ER visits, just to name a few.”

The coalition worked with the city this spring after a tent city along the Millrace Canal drew a number of complaints from residents. In the end, the city gave the homeless a deadline to pull up stakes and helped organize services. 

Farmwald said he considered it a success, in that some of the people were housed or entered substance abuse treatment as a result.

“But we are mistaken if we think those efforts to eliminate the homelessness in that area eliminated homelessness in our city, because it has not,” he said. “Homelessness in Goshen, like crime or street repair or zoning violations, is an issue that the city will have to continue to deal with. Homelessness is no longer – it never was – a problem limited to South Bend or LA or Chicago, but it’s here.”

He cited a number of things that contribute to the growing homeless population, including a lack of affordable housing, the opioid epidemic and the limited number of substance abuse treatment options. People come to Goshen seeking work as well, he said, but they still face the same issues that they did before.

“So while homelessness isn’t going to be eliminated, it can be managed. By providing a low-barrier shelter of four months, it’s only one part of the management,” he said. “Having options for shelter on cold winter nights is a very useful and humane thing.” 

Stutsman said he hasn’t yet identified where the city’s contribution would come from, but that he doesn’t see it as an annual commitment. He said it would be a move toward a more solid solution in the future, something that people have been working on behind the scenes for the past year.

He also indicated that, while a permanent shelter is a worthwhile goal, it wouldn’t be a cure-all.

“A lot of people think if we just build a shelter in Goshen, problem solved. It’s not gonna be, ’cause we’re gonna have to have rules there. There are people that don’t want to follow rules and still won’t go to it,” he said. “If shelters solved the issue, Elkhart would not be dealing with the same issue we are.”

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