South Bend Tribune, August 7, 2021
The League of Women Voters is a 100-year-old nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy. The LWV of the South Bend area represents over 150 women and men in this community who support good government. Some citizens know us from public forums or debates, our Citizen’s Guide to Representative Government, voter registration drives, and work on issues like campaign finance and redistricting reform.
In addition, six months ago the LWV of the South Bend Area formed a committee to support the right of every person to safe, sanitary and affordable housing. The committee has been observing our local governments’ response to homelessness in our community. We focus on this issue because of one of the basic principles on which the League was founded — that efficient and economical government requires coordination among the different agencies and levels of government.
We commend the work of Faith In Indiana, an interdenominational advocacy group. Their membership secured a commitment from St. Joseph County Commissioner Andrew Kostielney, South Bend Mayor James Mueller, Sheriff William Redman, County Health Officer Dr. Robert Einterz and Oaklawn CEO Laurie Nafziger to establish both a mobile response team and an intake center for those struggling with mental illness in our county. As options and access to mental health and/or addictions services expand, there is no doubt that many persons who are unhoused will also benefit.
We urge our city and county leaders to continue this kind of cooperation. The recent co-hiring of Anne Mannix and Betsy Benito at the city of South Bend, along with the anticipated hiring of a homeless services coordinator for St. Joseph County, will provide even more opportunities to work in close partnership. We recommend local units of government develop a three- to five-year countywide strategic plan along with a multi-year memorandum of understanding.These plans will detail how entities will divide up the work, cooperate with each other and the various stakeholders involved, engage the broader public, and drive sustainable outcomes.
With the influx of pandemic relief dollars arriving in the area, it is imperative that we take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to create an efficient, economical and caring system to improve the lives of our homeless brothers, sisters and neighbors. Inter-governmental partnerships, working in conjunction with other stakeholders, and coupled with strategic public and private spending, offer our community the best opportunity to spur significant and lasting impact. This kind of cooperation is good for those who are unhoused, good for our neighborhoods and good for our entire community.
We also invite our neighbors county-wide (1) to learn more about the causes of homelessness and the solutions or best practices that have worked elsewhere and that we might adapt for our local efforts; (2) to support wholeheartedly local agencies and groups who provide invaluable direct services and expertise; (3) to track and participate in the budget process that is now underway at all levels of government; and (4) to contact local representatives and urge their support for cooperative endeavors to help our unsheltered neighbors.
For more involvement or information on this issue or other related policy positions of The League of Women Voters South Bend Area, please visit https://www.lwvsouthbend.org/.
Melanie Smith-Guillaume, Jo M. Broden and Marla Godette wrote this Viewpoint on behalf of the League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area Advocacy Committee for Equitable Housing.
The local League is heartened by the work of the City of South Bend’s Homeless Task Force because it united elected leaders and staff, as well as public health and safety officials, business community representatives, neighborhood leadership, and local social service agencies, to develop broad-based recommendations on homelessness. Prioritizing, and then developing, an implementation plan from these recommendations remains the work of the Task Force members as they continue to meet on a monthly basis. Similarly, St. Joseph County officials forged partnerships that resulted in the Motels4Now program that serves a significant number of homeless individuals and families who are most at risk during a global pandemic.