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South Bend homelessness coordinator kicks off discussion series in Geddes coffee house

| Monday, September 4, 2023

Ethan Chiang | The Observer
South Bend homelessness coordinator Carl Hetler kicked off a discussion series, “Signs of the Times,” in Geddes Hall coffee house Friday.

At noon Friday, Notre Dame and South Bend community members gathered in the Geddes Hall coffee house for the first installment of a discussion series hosted by the Center for Social Concerns, “Signs of the Times.”

The new homelessness coordinator for South Bend, Carl Hetler, spoke on this years’s theme, “Poverty and Power,” in his talk which was titled “Care, Connect, Construct.”

Bill Purcell, senior associate director for operations at the Center for Social Concerns, introduced Hetler.

“He has served many churches for the past 13 years,” Purcell said. “Carl’s responsibilities started in July as South Bend’s homeless coordinator to support the city’s contribution to the growth of a strategic plan to address homelessness here.”

Hetler started by reflecting on the theological relationship between poverty and power.

“Think about the way that Jesus emptied himself with a lot of that power, some of those divine attributes, and he made himself a servant to come down and serve us,” he said. 

Then Hetler explained that the three alliterative words in the title of his talk parallel the work he seeks to carry out for South Bend.

“We let [the unhoused] know that the city cares about them,” Hetler said. “Not only is it the relational and emotional connection to people, but connecting them with the resources that are available in our city, whether it’s food, clothing [or] shelter.”

Hetler addressed the “construct” aspect of the talk’s title, explaining that South Bend is working on building more shelters. In particular, the city has plans for a new intake center which organizations like Our Lady of the Road and Motels4Now have assisted with.

The city’s funding for projects to address homelessness was initially matched by St. Joseph County, but Hetler said the county has stopped that 50% match to all city’s funds since November. 

Later this month South Bend hopes to reveal a site they are looking to purchase and zone for this low-barrier shelter, Hetler said.

“That would be built for the environment to get people off the streets — [those] who aren’t ready for the sober living that Hope Ministries or Center for the Homeless requires for people to be in their shelters,” he said. “The hope down the line would be to build, with South Bend Heritage, a permanent supportive housing site, so people can transition out of the intake center when they’re ready.”

Even after people get off the streets, the lack of low-income and affordable housing poses a major problem as well, according to Hetler.

“There are people ready to move into private rentals, but there’s no one willing or able to rent to them something they can afford,” Hetler said.

Hetler said South Bend lacks around 3,000 affordable housing units. He added that every week in St. Joseph County there are 60 evictions processed.

Issues such as zoning ordinances for single-family homes and drug addiction are challenges that unhoused communities face, Hetler said.

“One thing that we’re starting to do is more tiny homes and duplexes,” Hetler said, citing recent developments in the Near Northwest Neighborhood.

To assist those suffering from substance abuse, Hetler said that while South Bend no longer has a detox facility, there is support at recovery cafes around the city.

As the conversation wrapped up, Hetler provided participants with a map of downtown South Bend which contained several community organizations that assist low-income and unhoused residents, encouraging everyone to get involved with agencies they are interested in. 

Medb Kennedy, a junior exchange student from Ireland, said she attended this discussion because she was interested in learning more about poverty in South Bend and how to give back to the community.

“The talk was so educational, and it highlighted some of the key issues and ways [the city] is going to help,” she said. 

The next discussion in this monthly series will be held noon Oct. 6. South Bend mayor James Mueller, the Mayor of South will speak on “Sustainability for the Future.”

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