The homeless situation is expected to return to the front burner during the South Bend Common Council meeting on Monday, July 27.
Members are expected to try to override the mayor’s veto of a resolution that was passed during their meeting two weeks ago called for the Mayor Mueller to declare a State of Emergency regarding the homeless situation in the city.
Protesters demonstrated in front of some council members’ homes on Saturday who voted against the resolution in an effort to get them to support the veto override.
Several council members issued a statement regarding their viewpoints on the situation:
As community activists announced plans to protest at their homes, Council members Rachel Tomas Morgan, Sheila Niezgodski, Jake Teshka, and Troy Warner wish to reiterate that they value and honor the principles of free speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The protesters object to their recent votes on Resolution 20-22 addressing the homeless situation and calling on the Mayor to declare a state of emergency. After a contentious afternoon committee hearing which resulted in criticism of the resolution, the Council narrowly passed Resolution 20-22 by a 5-4 vote on July 13th. The four targeted council members voted against it. Issuing a “Statement of Administrative Policy,” Mayor Mueller vetoed the resolution and it will likely face a veto-override vote on July 27th.
Starting at the home of Councilwoman Tomas Morgan, protesters hope to intimidate at least one of the four to vote in favor of overriding the Mayor’s veto. While welcoming voice and respecting their right to free speech, the four council members hope the protesters have read the resolution and listened to the recordings of the July 13th committee and Council meetings and their public statements debating the resolution.
After Tomas Morgan invited the protest organizer to her porch for a conversation, it was clear there is misunderstanding about the resolution and they believe the council members voted down a homeless shelter.
“I want to do what the city can for the houseless in our community. I support the intent but not the spirit and manner of this resolution. This is more confrontational than constructive. We have had constructive conversations with the Administration and I am hopeful the Mayor’s implementation working group will bring together the right people around the table to come up with the right solutions,” said At-Large Councilwoman Rachel Tomas Morgan.
“It is a shame that this resolution with zero legal authority has detracted from the real goal of helping those dealing with houselessness or fighting shelter or food uncertainty. The resolution is a laundry list of demands made with very little determination whether the demands are feasible, financially sustainable, or even legal. The very first demand on the list is a violation of state law. Under Indiana law, the Mayor cannot declare a “state of emergency” and legally suspend housing and code ordinances and requirements to assist the houseless; so right from the start the resolution proposes illegal action. I took an oath to uphold the law and cannot ignore that fact,” continued 4th District Councilman Troy Warner.
Fifth District Councilman Jake Teshka explained, “The Council has struggled for a few years now finding the correct actions to take and what we have seen is you cannot force or rush effective solutions. My vote against this resolution was based on current budget restraints and concerns with the council’s authority to demand some of its tenants. I strongly reject any notion that a vote against the resolution is a heartless vote against helping people.”
“I voted against the resolution because I felt the tone of it did not represent a cooperative effort to work on solutions. Cooperatively we can address this matter but any solution should be vetted out and be financially possible for both short-term and long-term,” stated Councilwoman Sheila Niezgodski as she explained her vote on the bill.
The Mayor has announced a homeless implementation working group consisting of representatives of the city, the council, and staff of the service providers on the front line helping those struggling with homelessness and poverty. The group will be working on solutions that will be viable and sustainable as the city moves forward during the economic fallout. Longer-term solutions include a Housing First complex that involves wrap-around supportive assistance. The city also just recently awarded a total of $500,000 in federal funds to two local agencies to provide both rental and utility assistance. Council members Tomas Morgan, Niezgodski, and Warner with City staff have been coordinating with providers to provide legal and rental assistance for those in our community at risk of eviction due to COVID-19.
“Working together with the administration and providers to coordinate resources, we aim to heed the tsunami of evictions that will be occurring at the end of this month and could result in homeless families. We are working to keep people in their homes,” said Tomas Morgan.
Warner also noted, “The notion that the city has done nothing for the houseless is completely false. Each year the City of South Bend provides financial resources to partner organizations who provide services, meals, and beds to those fighting homelessness and poverty along with opening the weather amnesty shelter during the winter months. The City of South Bend is on the forefront of providing assistance and no other government entity in our region of the state even comes close, not Mishawaka, not St. Joseph County, not Elkhart or LaPorte. This is not just a South Bend problem. This affects people from all over the region, but they come to South Bend because we are one place where they might find some help.”
Council member Niezgodski closed by stating, “We all have the same end goal here. We hear what the protesters and activists are saying as they protest this morning and we will be pushing for more efficient use of the funds the city is currently spending as well as working with the Mayor to come up with further options.
The following response to the statement issued by council members Tomas-Morgan, Niezgodski, Warner and Teshka was issued by council woman Lori Hamann:
In all due respect to my council colleagues, I believe they are missing the point. The alleged legality of the resolution notwithstanding, the main point was to urge the mayor to act on the immediate situation. Moreover, these members of the council could have amended to resolution on the floor rather than vote against it. We have heard at nauseum about long-term plans. The question I have for the mayor and my council colleagues is, “What is the plan for next Friday when the tent city is going to be forced off the Chapel property”? We now have young children living in this tent city. The question remains. What is your plan for the immediate needs of these people? You have no plan. In terms of the tone of the resolution, go spend time with these folks as I have, and your tone would change too. God gives us emotions such as righteous anger so that we can effect justice!! These people deserve JUSTICE.