Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?

For about five hours on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council considered a proposed law that would prevent the displacement of houseless people from their encampments in city parks, unless certain conditions are met.

Late Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 24, 2021), a couple of tents were set up on the Walnut Street side of Seminary Park. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

One of the alternatives provided in the proposed law is for the city to designate locations on public property with access to bathrooms and within a mile of distribution points for prepared meals.

If the city designated such locations, with adequate space for those experiencing homelessness, then encampments could be displaced from city parks without meeting the conditions.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration is opposed to the ordinance.

The ordinance is a response to a decision by Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

During the meeting, a key question was drawn out by back-and-forth between councilmembers and city department heads: What are a city’s core services? Continue reading “Proposed law on protections for Bloomington’s houseless population prompts question: What are a city’s core services?”

Bloomington’s proposed law protecting encampments puts housing first: “We can’t shelter our way out of this problem.”

Set for Wednesday are the first round of the Bloomington city council’s deliberations on a proposed new law that would provide protections to encampments of houseless people in city parks.

File photo of Seminary Park on Jan. 14, 2021, the day of the second park clearance by the city of Bloomington. For the mid-January park clearance, notice was posted as shown in the photo for “on or about” Jan. 11. No postings were made for the early-December clearance. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The council could take a provisional vote, but there won’t be a vote on the question of enactment.

The law was proposed by city council sponsors Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice before a camp displacement. Another requirement is that sufficient alternative housing be available for people living in the encampment.

A common thread in statements made in the past week, by some significant community players who oppose the law, is the idea that it is important to find longer-term solutions to the problems of homelessness.

The ordinance itself includes a longer-term perspective, because under the proposal, the city could not displace a camp unless there is sufficient available “permanent housing” or “transitional housing” as defined by federal HUD regulations.

That means emergency shelter does not count towards sufficient available housing, for the purpose of displacing an encampment.

It’s a point that could see some debate on Wednesday, because it’s seen as a potential argument both for and against the ordinance. Continue reading “Bloomington’s proposed law protecting encampments puts housing first: “We can’t shelter our way out of this problem.””

Proposed ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group

A proposed ordinance on encampments of houseless people in city parks got some scrutiny from Bloomington’s human rights commission at the group’s regular meeting on Monday.

The commissioners voted 3–0 with two abstentions to endorse the proposed ordinance, with some caveats.

The proposed law is set for deliberations on Wednesday by the city council’s committee of the whole. No vote on enactment will be taken at the committee meeting.

The law was proposed by city council sponsors Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith, after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice before a camp displacement.

Also under the proposed ordinance, the city could not displace a camp unless there is sufficient available “permanent housing” or “transitional housing” as defined by federal HUD regulations. Emergency shelters would not count towards available housing.

On Monday, commissioners dug a bit into the proposed new law. Continue reading “Proposed ordinance giving protections to houseless encampments gets a look from Bloomington human rights group”

Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance

A proposed new Bloomington law that would provide some protections to encampments of houseless people has been referred to the city council’s committee of the whole.

On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.

Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.

The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.

Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

The city council’s public safety standing committee is made up of Piedmont-Smith, Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Jim Sims.

That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.

With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.

The contentious vote on committee referral was consistent with ongoing skirmishes among councilmembers over the creation and use of standing committees. Continue reading “Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance”

Proposed Bloomington law to protect houseless encampments to get first reading on Feb. 17

A new local law that would provide certain protections to people living in city park encampments will get a first reading in front of Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday (Feb. 17).

That’s two weeks later than the Feb. 3 first-reading date that had initially been floated by sponsors of the ordinance—councilmembers Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The proposed new law comes after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December and again in mid-January.

On Sunday morning (Feb. 14), no tents were set up Seminary Park and no one was congregated there.

Highlights of the proposed new law include a requirement of 15-day notice by the city to a houseless person living in a city park encampment, before they and their belongings can be removed from the park.

The new law is being proposed in the context of a “Houseless Bill of Rights” that had been circulated by activist Vauhxx Booker just after the first clearance of Seminary Park in early December. One point of overlap between the proposed new ordinance and the “Houseless Bill of Rights” is the requirement of a 15-day notice before people are removed. Continue reading “Proposed Bloomington law to protect houseless encampments to get first reading on Feb. 17”

Crestmont public housing renovations to be funded with $30M bond issuance, units converted to federal RAD program

Bloomington Housing Authority is now in the final stages of converting all of its traditional public housing units to a new funding model, which gives vouchers to residents of the units.

To help make that happen, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously at meeting last Wednesday to approve the preliminary issuance of $30 million in bonds, which will be lent to an entity called Bloomington RAD II, LP.

The limited partnership will use the proceeds of the bond issuance to take over the 196 apartments of BHA’s Crestmont Community public housing complex and renovate the units. Continue reading “Crestmont public housing renovations to be funded with $30M bond issuance, units converted to federal RAD program”

Bloomington city council: Yes on historic designation for hospital building, No on restaurant

The Kohr Administration Center at IU Health’s hospital, at 1st and South Rogers streets, was given historic designation by Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night.

The vote about the Kohr building by the nine-member city council was unanimous.

Also unanimous was the council’s decision at the same meeting to deny historic designation to the building on South Walnut Street that was most recently home to the Player’s Pub.

The thumbs-up from the city council on the Kohr building means it will join the parking garage as one of the buildings on the hospital site that IU Health will not demolish before it hands over the facility to the city of Bloomington in a $6.5 million real estate deal.

The handover will come after IU Health leaves the 2nd Street complex around the end of 2021, to occupy its new location on the SR-46 bypass. Continue reading “Bloomington city council: Yes on historic designation for hospital building, No on restaurant”

87-acre site once mulled as new home for ST Semiconductor may get negotiated rezoning by Bloomington city council

The aerial image, dated April 2020, is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

After nearly becoming a new home for ST Semiconductor in 1988, an 87-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Fullerton Pike and the I-69 has sat undeveloped for more than three decades.

The lack of any development on the site during that time has led owner Bill Brown to ask for a rezoning of the land, from the current planned unit development (PUD) district to mixed-use corridor (MC).

At a plan commission meeting in late 2020, Michael Carmin, who represents Brown, said he’s been approached for possible development of a hotel in the southwest corner of the property, next to I-69. He’s also been approached to develop a large part of the property as a training center for fire and emergency services.

The proposed rezone will find its way in front of the city council in a few weeks.

At their January meeting, commissioners voted affirmatively 6–2–1 to send the rezone request to the council with no recommendation. It’s not a common move, but plan commission president Brad Wisler said at the commission’s January meeting he thinks it’s been done before.

The city planning staff recommended denial of the rezoning based on the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for the area to be an employment center.

The split vote reflected disagreement among the commissioners about how to signal their intent to the city council—about which they had a general consensus.

They did not think the proposal from Brown should be adopted in its current form. But they did not want the city council to see a recommendation of denial from both the plan commission and the plan staff, and because of that, let the proposal die without some additional consideration.

The consensus was put this way by Wisler: “It’s very, very clear to me that what needs to happen here is some negotiation.” Continue reading “87-acre site once mulled as new home for ST Semiconductor may get negotiated rezoning by Bloomington city council”

Opinion: Who’s got time for Bloomington city board and commission service? Who knows?

The four-member administration committee of Bloomington’s city council will meet on Wednesday (Jan. 27) to discuss a piece of legislation that affects city boards and commissions, among other things.

The proposed legislation does nothing to help solve an identified problem related to recruiting people to serve on any of the city’s more than 40 citizen boards and commissions.

The problem: Information about the estimated time it takes to perform the duties of service on a board or commission does not exist for most boards and commissions.

If existing local law were followed, the information about service time estimates would not only exist, it would routinely be sent to local media.

Is information about a potential time commitment important? Of course it is. Continue reading “Opinion: Who’s got time for Bloomington city board and commission service? Who knows?”

Bloomington human rights commission waits for specific wording before voting to support possible protections for park encampments

At their Monday meeting, Bloomington’s human rights commissioners seemed supportive of a possible new law that would protect homeless encampments in city parks.

Screen shot of the Jan. 25, 2021 Bloomington human rights commission meeting.

The proposed new law comes after a decision by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to clear a Seminary Park encampment in early December  and again in mid-January.

The proposed new Bloomington law is modeled on an Indianapolis ordinance.

But city human rights commissioners wanted to see the specific wording of Bloomington’s ordinance before voting to support it.

As commissioner Carolyn Calloway-Thomas put it, “I will have to lay eyes on the language that’s constituted now, because there might be some differences stylistically and otherwise, during the translation from Indianapolis to Bloomington.” Calloway-Thomas is a professor African American and African diaspora studies at Indiana University.

The new law, which got some discussion at a city council work session last Friday (Jan. 22) is co-authored by councilmembers Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

City councilmembers did not attend the human rights commission meeting on Monday.

Speaking in support of the proposed new ordinance on Monday was Monroe County county human rights commissioner Vauhxx Booker, who provided the impetus for the new legislation. Continue reading “Bloomington human rights commission waits for specific wording before voting to support possible protections for park encampments”