Future housing in Bloomington to get boost with 28 emergency vouchers, $2.25M in federal funds, “multi-million dollar” request to city council by mayor

At a Tuesday press conference held on the back porch of the Bloomington Housing Authority’s community center on Summit Street, some new information was announced about support from the federal government for local housing programs.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, also announced that in July he’d be making a request of the city council to support housing initiatives, through an extra appropriation for the 2021 budget year.

The mayor’s request will be for a “multi-million dollar” investment of Bloomington’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Bloomington’s total amount of basic ARPA funds is around $22 million.

In other news announced on Tuesday, Bloomington Housing Authority executive director Amber Skoby said BHA is one of 700 housing authorities across the country that is receiving 28 new emergency vouchers. The vouchers are for individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, fleeing, or attempting to flee domestic violence or who were recently homeless.

The emergency vouchers will be available starting July 1.

The city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) director, John Zody, prefaced his remarks by noting that last year Bloomington had received $250,000 in additional CDBG funds, to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zody announced that another $650,000 in pandemic-related CDBG funds will be made available for applications starting next week.

An additional fresh set of housing funds was announced by Zody. Bloomington will get an additional $1.6 million through the American Rescue Plan.

The money can be used specifically for the preservation or production of affordable housing, tenant-based rental assistance, supportive services including homeless prevention services, and housing counseling, Zody said. No final guidance from the feds on the use of the extra $1.6 million has been provided, Zody said.

Also at Tuesday’s press conference, Tina Peterson (Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County) and Efrat Feferman (United Way of Monroe County) gave an update on their work to build a coalition to establish needed collaboration and coordination for the countywide area, to create a sustainable strategy to reduce housing insecurity and prevent homelessness.

Continue reading “Future housing in Bloomington to get boost with 28 emergency vouchers, $2.25M in federal funds, “multi-million dollar” request to city council by mayor”

Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now

Bloomington’s public buses have been operating fare-free since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic appears to be waning, now is a perfect time to contemplate a permanent fare-free policy for BT buses.

It was over a year ago when Bloomington Transit’s five-member board made the decision to stop collecting fares from passengers as they get on the bus. The decision related to rear-door boarding protocols for pandemic prevention. Fareboxes are located by the front door.

Since then, the BT board has been voting at its regular meetings to approve the extension of the fare-free policy, one month at a time.

At the March board meeting, board member Doug Horn said he is reluctant to continue voting not to collect fares every month, as the board has been doing.

On the board’s Tuesday’s agenda is an item that would, among other things, extend the fare-free policy though May 18.

Based on Horn’s request in March—that BT staff prepare some fare data analysis—the item could get some lively discussion on Tuesday.

I hope the conversation is both lively and productive. Continue reading “Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now”

Photos: “March to End the Madness” uses basketball branding in support of homeless community

A demonstration to support Bloomington’s homeless community passes in front of Assembly Hall in the early afternoon of Saturday, March 20, 2021 (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Shortly after 11 a.m. in Dunn Meadow on Indiana University’s campus, a demonstration tipped off in support of those experiencing homelessness in Bloomington.

Somewhere between 70 and 90 people were a part of the action at various points during the late morning and early afternoon, which would up at the intersection of 17th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, kitty-corner from Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

That’s where demonstrators set up 17 blue free-standing tents.

Continue reading “Photos: “March to End the Madness” uses basketball branding in support of homeless community”

Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Bloomington Transit (BT) board, the continuation of COVID-19 protocols, including fare-free, rear-door boarding for all bus passengers, was confirmed for another month.

It could be the last time the board votes to approve the protocols, without a date for resumption of regular service.

Board members are looking towards a resumption of regular operations by the fall. That’s when Indiana University has announced in-person classes will resume.

About 70 percent of BT’s normal, non-pandemic ridership comes from IU affiliates—students, staff and faculty. They don’t pay a fare when they board, because their rides are covered under an agreement between IU and BT.

The BT board’s next monthly meeting, in April, will include an agenda item to consider the formal question of resuming fare collection, effective as early as June 1.

The board’s decision not to collect fares—made early in the pandemic—was based on the goal of limiting the opportunity for driver-passenger COVID-19 disease spread, by allowing passengers to board through the bus rear doors. Fare boxes are located next to the driver’s seat at the front door of the buses.

On Tuesday, BT general manager Lew May reported to the board that the drivers union recommends resumption of fare collection as soon as possible.

About the union’s recommendation, May said, “They have noticed over the past year, a marked increase in the homeless population that has been using the bus as a place of refuge. And, and in some cases, they have caused some difficulty for us.”

How will the resumption of public bus fare collection affect the population of people who are experiencing homelessness, and organizations who serve them?

According to Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore, during non-pandemic times, the nonprofit spends about $500 a month on 50-percent discounted bus fares for its clients. That translates into 1,000 rides a month. That’s an expense that Beacon, Inc. has been able to save during the pandemic.

Back-and-forth between May and board members drew out some of the different motivations for resumption of front-door passenger boarding and fare collection. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides”

Houseless advocates knock on mayor’s door as prelude to Monday’s events

A little after 9 p.m. on Sunday night, Travis Dugan, a man experiencing homelessness, knocked on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s door. Hamilton lives in the Elm Heights neighborhood south of the Indiana University campus.

A meeting between the two, with more advanced planning, might be taking place sometime in the near future.

Dugan had been staying at the Seminary Park encampment, which the mayor had ordered cleared in early December and again last week.

The Sunday encounter at the mayor’s house came on the same day when Beacon, Inc. announced that a new temporary low-barrier shelter with 49 more beds will be opening on Tuesday.

On Sunday night, Dugan made his way on foot from the Seminary Park area to the mayor’s front door. With him were around a dozen others, who are affiliated with Bloomington Homeless Coalition or other grassroots  efforts to support those who were staying at the Seminary Park encampment.

The conversation between the mayor and the dozen people who’d dropped by for an unannounced visit was conducted at a distance of 10 yards—between the sidewalk and Hamilton’s front porch. Continue reading “Houseless advocates knock on mayor’s door as prelude to Monday’s events”

Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds

Reduced in number but remaining in place on Monday night, was Bloomington’s Seminary Park encampment of people who are experiencing homelessness.

The enforcement action, which Bloomington’s city administration had warned would come “on or about Jan. 11” looks like it might be taken about Jan. 11, not exactly on the date.

As of around 1 a.m. no action had been taken by the Bloomington police department (BPD) to remove anyone from the park.

The apparent lack of enforcement action at Seminary Park came after the late afternoon news of possibly 50 additional shelter beds that might become available.

Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore said on Facebook that he’d walked the city’s fire chief, Jason Moore, through a warehouse space that Gilmore described as looking like a viable low barrier winter shelter. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds”

Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11

Jan. 11 is still the date when Bloomington is planning to clear an encampment from the area around Seminary Park at 2nd Street and College Avenue, city officials say.

Estimates of the number of people who are staying there, reporting that they have no other place to go, vary from a dozen and a half up to more than 50, with additional numbers socializing there during the day.

Since the Dec. 9 clearance of the park by the city, the strip of public right-of-way along the road, and probably a little more, has been re-established as a place where people are sleeping, socializing and storing their warming accoutrements.

Early the week of Jan. 4, city staff planted signs on stakes in the area, giving notice of the clearance date. It is described on the signs as “on or about” Jan. 11. Some of the signs were immediately pushed over by park campers.

The signs include the text: “It is our hope that everyone currently in the Seminary Park area will find safe shelter/housing alternatives by January 11 by taking advantage of the opportunities available through the agencies that serve those experiencing homelessness.”

The suggested contact points listed out on the signs include: Beacon/Shalom Center, Friend’s Place, Wheeler Mission, New Hope Family Shelter, Amethyst House, Perry Township trustee’s office, and Middle Way House.

It was before Christmas when the city settled on the Jan. 11 date.

The more recent signage can be analyzed as a response to the criticism that the city gave no clear indication that enforcement action was imminent before its Dec. 9 park clearance. It came just after the board of park commissioners had declined the administration’s request to extend a nighttime prohibition of camping to daytime hours. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11”

Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper

In a press release issued late Thursday afternoon, Bloomington’s police department announced that it is investigating the death of a 51-year-old man who was staying  at the Seminary Park encampment.

Seminary Park looking south along College Avenue on Dec. 22, 2020.

According to the news release, the officers responded to a call around 11:40 a.m., which was made by a passerby, who said several people at the park had asked them to call 911.

Officers and EMS staff attempted to resuscitate the man but were not successful, according to the release. The release says that others at the park had spoken to the man earlier in the morning and he seemed fine.

According to the news release, several people had tried the day before to get the man services and had offered him overnight accommodations but the man had refused and slept in the park.

BPD had checked on the man once during the evening hours of Dec. 23 and twice on the morning of Dec. 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance, according to the news release.

The news release says there were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man.

Continue reading “Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper”

Monroe Dems: “Removing people without homes and their belongings from the encampment in the park is not an acceptable answer.”

Responding to a city of Bloomington action on Wednesday night, to remove people and their belongings from Seminary Park, the Monroe County Democratic Party issued a statement on Sunday critical of the move.

The MCDP statement asks that portable restrooms and handwashing stations be placed at the park as “the bare minimum.”

The statement also calls on  elected representatives in city and county government to “work together in conjunction with local social service organizations, activists, and those that are experiencing homelessness to build a coalition and work together on a long-term solution.”

The MCDP statement advocates “allocating funds for long-term housing for those unhoused…”

That echoes a sentiment that has begun to get more frequent mention in local discussions, which is summarized in the slogan, “housing first.” That contrasts with the idea of putting “shelter first.”

The statement also asks that people make contributions to local organizations like: Beacon, Inc., Middle Way House, The Bloomington Volunteer Network, and Community Kitchen of Monroe County.

At a rally on Friday night at the county courthouse, some speakers also asked that people support a grassroots effort,.Hotels for Homeless, as an organization that had made arrangements for some who were staying in Seminary Park.

The city worked with some of the local nonprofits on Wednesday night to point park resident to other resources. Three of the park residents agreed to go to the Stride Center and a fourth to Wheeler Mission’s shelter, according to city officials. Continue reading “Monroe Dems: “Removing people without homes and their belongings from the encampment in the park is not an acceptable answer.””

Removal of people, personal property from Bloomington’s Seminary Park prompts question: What, if anything, is an encampment?

 

When it was founded in 1825, the school that stood on what’s now a park, at 2nd and Walnut streets in Bloomington, taught just two subjects, both heavy with vocabulary study—Greek and Latin.

What’s the right word to describe Seminary Park over the last few weeks?

It was at least a community of people.

They spent the day socializing around tents and stacks of belongings draped in tarps. For most of them, that meant garden-variety small talk, about the weather, gossip, or other mild pursuits. For a few, it meant a transaction for illicit substances. For a couple, it included brawling on the ground, getting in as many punches as they could, before getting separated by a recognized peacemaker in the group.

Several complaints are logged in the city’s uReport system about camping in Seminary and Switchyard parks.

What had become increasingly visible over the last few weeks is no longer there.

On Wednesday night, Seminary Park was the site of action taken in a coordinated effort between Bloomington police department’s downtown resource officers, its social worker, and staff from two area nonprofits, Centerstone and Wheeler Mission. Continue reading “Removal of people, personal property from Bloomington’s Seminary Park prompts question: What, if anything, is an encampment?”