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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Vaccine Availability, Seminary Park

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Unknown Speaker
We are now streaming live on Facebook. This is Wi Fi us ask the mayor and every week we're with a different mayor. So far this year we've talked to Columbus Mayor Jim lindop. Terre Haute Mayor do Bennett and today we're welcome. Welcoming john May, john john mayer, john Hamilton, who is the mayor of Bloomington. Hi, john.

Unknown Speaker
Good to see you, Joe. Happy New Year officially, I guess for us on this show. Nice to be together again.

Unknown Speaker
Yes, yes. Happy New Year. You know, we have a long road ahead to any normalcy from the pandemic. But there's some good news and about the vaccine. Of course, we'll get to that in just a little bit. But Indiana COVID numbers are slowly decreasing. Monroe County has the lowest positivity rate in the state. What's happening are we starting to see starting to turn the corner a little bit here?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I'm really proud of our community, you know, it's been a long road, it's still in it, we're in a marathon still. But I'm very proud of the way our community has pulled together and tried to do the right things. From early on, frankly, and we as most people know, we've had tighter regulations and earlier restrictions than the state as a whole. And I do think that has helped us having more people wearing masks having more people really be socially physically distinct from each other and such. So while you know the state itself is also seeing compared to the terrible national news, which continues to rise, seeing rise in deaths, dangerous places, our state overall has seen some trending in the right direction in the last few weeks. And a county has to you know, we were we were averaging two deaths a day for a period of time. In December, we're now one death a day average. And we had a couple days with a zero day average, seven day moving average. So deaths, our case numbers, and our hospitalizations are all trending in the right direction, which is good, of course. And it wasn't clear, that would happen after the holiday. So that's that's all positive. And I think testament to the really hard work of all the people paying attention to the to the good protocols here in town.

Unknown Speaker
We have first responders essential personnel, age 70. And then everybody age 70. And up can register at our shot dot i n.gov. Or call 211. We've been a number a number of questions coming in about the vaccination. From the meetings, you've attended forums, the questions that are coming up, as doesn't matter which vaccine you get, there's the Pfizer and Madonna.

Unknown Speaker
Right, those two are in emergency use authorization now and I think a third one may be coming. From what and I'm let me say I'm not a doctor, not a health professional. But I do believe both of those approved vaccines are kind of used interchangeably. For people. They're both according to the data that has been shared extremely effective, very, very effective vaccines. And I think we're giving vaccines out just based on whichever we get more of we put them out the door as quickly as possible. Here in Bloomington we're seeing somewhere between seven or 800 shots a day of vaccinations per day, going now that's good. We need to get that higher. If we're going to get to the real protection that we want this year this even you know before the year is out, we really want to have that ramping up. I'm really happy I Indiana University I believe is soon going to be doing shots themselves. There'll be a vaccination delivery point, which is really helpful but all of it depends on getting the vaccines. The more vaccine we get, the quicker we can get it out into people's arms and the healthier will and safer we'll all be the sooner

Unknown Speaker
and that's something last week Terre Haute do Bennett is was really worried that there's going to be enough vaccine. Are you hearing or seeing anything about production not being able to keep up?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I think we should, from the from the high level picture first. It's really good that we've had vaccines developed so quickly that we have to remember, scientists here and around the world did an amazing job of getting really effective vaccines. I am pleased that the Biden administration, which of course takes over January 20 at noon, has very aggressive plans to increase the speed of vaccinations even invoking I guess, the defense production act and those kinds of things to make sure we're producing the vaccines as quickly as possible. That's that's job one. I know the new administration is focused on that. You know, our Bloomington people were happy that we've got a Katelyn here packaging and sending out vaccines 24 seven, but that's a real focus for the new administration and I'm confident that, you know, we can't snap our fingers and expect things to be different. But I expect that the vaccine production will continue to ramp up.

Unknown Speaker
The vaccine, I think becomes that 96% effective after two doses, though. So have you heard anything about registration going to be rolled out for those that need to go for round two?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we're already doing round two here in Bloomington, we've got hundreds of people who've been second dose delivered, and that's happening every day. And you know, that'll that'll continue, it is important to remember that even when an individual is vaccinated, they need to keep masking, they need to keep physically distancing, they can still possibly transmit the virus, they're still really important locally that we not lower our protection of each other through those basic methods until we really have the kind of herd immunity that we that we talk about. If we do if we do three or 4000 shots a week here locally, that still takes us a long time to get to the kind of the two thirds 70 80% vaccination protection that we want. So I'm hoping we will see those vaccine numbers go up in the vaccination numbers and get to that protective place where we can see a return to more more normalcy, which we'll all want to see as soon as we can.

Unknown Speaker
We had a number of questions come in about those who are homebound. Will someone be able to administer the vaccine to them? Have you heard anything about that?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, the health department takes the lead on that we've offered any way we can help. For example, our fire department is likely to become a distribution point. And they could do some of this delivery to to the various places including homebound. There are a bunch of people who are going to probably need and get shots where they live, whether it's a long term care facility, whether it's individual who's homebound, whether it's an emergency shelter facility or, or those kinds of things, and there are definitely plans in place for that on site delivery. And again, that's mostly driven by the health department. But I know all of us are standing ready to help do that as we can.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, let's move on to this design going issue of those experiencing homelessness having their encampments removed. This past week. I see on Twitter, you are the city released a statement about a visit to your home by housing advocates. Can you explain that a little bit more who came to your home? When and what did they say?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe,

Unknown Speaker
you know, I let me just first say I've been personally involved in trying to help improve housing, reduce housing insecurity improves having housing for everyone, much of my professional life, it's something I care deeply about I was around the table when shalom began here in the community. 20 plus years ago, I've was the president of the board of Shalom, which is now called beacon focused on homeless services have been a direct volunteer in various ways. So I care a lot about this. And I know our community does to our community wants to see everybody with a house a home. We believe I believe home housing is a right. And we work very hard to do that creating more housing. There are people in the in the community for sure who are experiencing homelessness. It's always important to remind people that most people who experience homelessness do so for a short period of time. And this community embraces and helps people get back on their feet, get back a job and housing and health care and those kinds of things. chronic homelessness where people have long term homeless experiences is very challenging. We're working very hard with our partners like centerstone and beacon and Wheeler and many others middle-way to reach out one by one to help people or families experiencing homelessness get back into their into their homes. I have had visitors there, of course, different views on many of these issues. I've had people at my house who've come in, which is not something I recommend in these days of concern but but who've come to express a view about how we're treating our parks, our city parks. And you know, I've you probably know Joe every week, I have a chance for anybody who wants to the city resident to come in and talk with me about any subject. I've been doing that for five years and have talked with people experiencing homelessness and heard about challenges. And so we're going to continue to work on that. Again, I I wish anger doesn't really help us solve many problems. I think collaboration and focus. This community cares a lot and is making a lot of difference. We have emergency shelter beds sufficient to get everybody out of the cold. And we're going to continue to try to make sure people aren't exposed to the elements we, we had a tragic death, a new Christmas eve of a person who died of exposure from being outside. We don't want people living and sleeping outside. And we do have shelter beds for people to get in out of the cold.

Unknown Speaker
I was there that one night, when they were checking up on the homelessness there in the park, the message from them was that the tent is their home, they don't want to go to a shelter. Some shelters have restrictions. That night I was there a female asked if her boyfriend could come along? And they said no. Some might have religious I know there might be some religious requirements, there could be some LGBTQ requirements or, or other issues. So what's the message then of removing their encampment if they say that's their home?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I guess a couple things first, the first thing is, is kind of making sure people are physically safe. Everyone should have a home, we want everybody to have home and many of us are working very hard to make sure we increase the supply of affordable housing, we've added hundreds of units of affordable housing in the city in the last few years. But so it's not safe to live outdoors, it is true. And I guess the point I would make is those emergency beds. They may not be ideal for for for many of us, but their emergency shelter beds to try to protect people's life and health. We also have hotel rooms for people experiencing COVID or have been exposed to that and a range of emergency shelter beds. There are individuals some who either who choose or some who have challenges that steer them away from getting indoors or being in a shelter bed. And that's a that's a big, big challenge. We don't want people living outside. But some people do that you don't get to just choose wherever you want to live outside. In a city, we do not allow encampments in the downtown public park, you can't do it in the middle of a sidewalk or private property, other people's private property. So we're trying to make sure people get into into safe spaces outside of the elements, which can be fatal. And we'll continue to work on that. And again, you know, the CDC guidelines, which we take very, very seriously the Center for Disease Control, emphasize the importance of working individually with people to find the solution for them. And sometimes we we group people and act like they're all the same or have different, have have the same challenges. And they don't they're they're different challenges. Each story is important and different. And we work very, very hard to try to make sure everybody can get the best situation they can, is saying that though. Having a downtown park or down on our town square or or in the middle of a sidewalk is not a tenable place for people to live. It's not safe. It needs we know we're trying to find better places for them to live.

Unknown Speaker
So if many of these encampments just ended up moving elsewhere or get spread out through the city, is that a better alternative? I've heard there has been some at switchyard Park, for example.

Unknown Speaker
Well, I'll

Unknown Speaker
tell you what the the experience that we had at seminary was, we had in December of handful of people who are gathering during the day, very few, if any, sleeping over in early December. And we were seeking to end that we did a moratorium on that and actually did get up to somewhere around 20 people sleeping per night, in seminary square, maybe even a little more, though not much more than that, from all that we could count. We gradually worked with folks to find better alternatives. And we got that 20 down to 15. And then we got that 15 down to 10. And we're working person by person with our partners to try to find better options, that that's it, then it came down to eight and then by that by the middle of last week goes down to three or four people sleeping over. And that's the hard work of case by case trying to help people get a better option. And that's what we want to see if there are people who are sleeping outside. And there are some encampments out in the woods and that are kind of hard to see and hard to find. And we continue to work with people there to do the same thing to help them find better options.

Unknown Speaker
One more quick thing on this and then I know we're kind of running out of time, I want to get to a few other things. But I know a lot of people have been upset about this issue. And I was trying to illustrate, I wanted to paint this picture because it kind of hit me when I saw an advertisement for one of those dining experiences on Kirkwood with the you know the bubble for me because of the COVID and I was thinking well you know the city is closings treats for fine dining, but then just a couple blocks away. There there is a homelessness issue. So is the city sending mixed messages? And is this why people seem to be so upset about this?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe, I don't know that they're mixed messages there. There, the focus is trying to keep people healthy and safe and respond to the pandemic and to respond to the city challenges. You know, we know employment is important. And we've tried to help employers find new strategies to keep doing what they do safely with people. And we've been flexible about the use of facilities that way. On the other hand, we're also trying to make sure people stay safe in the winter. And sleeping outdoors in the winter is not safe. Again, we had a death a person on our watch, as we were trying to help them refuse to go inside to go inside and they died on December 24. We don't want to lose our residents. And it is not safe to be outside in a in a in a Hoosier winter. So we're going to continue to work, let me give a shout out to the shelters. They've done a fantastic job of protecting our our residents, including from COVID, we've only had, I think a five cases a very small number of cases positive from shelters because they've been so careful with expanding their physical layout and protocols and protecting people. And that's, you know, that's a testament to try to help keep people safe. That's it's been the focus in this pandemic is helping everybody be as safe as we can, which includes a wide range of responses and will continue to focus on the health and the well being of our people.

Unknown Speaker
And we should mention to just reported yesterday, a new shelter off the Beeline trail, near switchyard, which will help to

Unknown Speaker
there is their new shelter beds, there's there was a new women's shelter that opened a month ago, there's a new shelter in the warehouse near near switchyard. That's a low barrier shelter that's opened, we've opened the isolation shelter, the hotel that's focused on people exposed to COVID. And our partners are really stepping up to help protect people. I think the bottom line is just remembering that it is not safe to be outdoors. We don't want people freezing to death. We want people inside fed and safe. And that's what we're going to keep focusing on.

Unknown Speaker
So speaking of affordable housing, the project to redevelop the what is now the IU Bloomington health hospital is moving forward. I believe there was an announcement about a somewhat you can describe it better, but a formalized site plan for that area.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, there's a master plan that came out of a year long process intensive process actually probably five or six year long overall, not done yet. But just last week and even Tuesday night, this week, it's going to be formally presented to the redevelopment commission, which paid for the plan. We're getting Joe, we should have a contest because we can't keep calling it the current hospital site. We have to have it we have to have a new name for it. We'll get to we don't have that yet. But that 24 acres, there's a master plan that's now available online, you can check it out through the city website is a wonderful imagining that our community has developed with with a lot of professional guidance, imagining what that 24 acres can be over the next 10 plus years. It is a chance to build a lot of a lot of new housing, new kinds of housing, new opportunities, so close to downtown, new new retail, new green space, new connectivity. It's really, really exciting and kind of a once in a century opportunity. So I encourage people to keep keep checking it out and giving us your ideas.

Unknown Speaker
We had someone just comment quickly about annexation. Do you have any update on that right now?

Unknown Speaker
Really, Joe? You know, the Supreme Court agreed with the city's position late last year and and agreed that the legislature took unconstitutional action in stopping that annexation. That was now been four years ago since we started it so we have some work to do to rethink relook recalculate? I've been talking to county partners, city friends and allies and interested parties to think about that. I don't think anything will happen imminently. But I do think I will continue to say healthy cities grow healthy cities boundaries grow as population increases and density increases. Bloomington has been over 15 years with no changes in our boundary, which puts a lot of pressure both on us and on county government. So I do think it's an issue we'll need to be talking about but it's complicated and the legislature keeps changing the rules so we have to catch up and figure out where we are on there.

Unknown Speaker
I can Get this question in from Jim, who wrote in? Why did it take six years to complete construction on West 17th. The entire interstate highways have been built in less time.

Unknown Speaker
I'm not sure six years of construction is accurate. But I do know that the 17th Street project did get delayed. We had some, frankly, we had some construction issues that that occurred in the process that took about a year longer than it should have, in my view. I'm sorry about that. I'm glad it's open. Now it's going to be a really important corridor. We'll continue to do the best we can. And I'm appreciate everybody's patience. We've actually tried to accelerate some of the projects through the COVID years, folks know when there's less traffic, we're trying to do a little more and it helps with the economy. But I know that 17 st was frustrating. I'm glad it's done. We'll have a new junior high up there too, before too long and new connectivity. And thanks for your patience as we got through it.

Unknown Speaker
You just have like two minutes left. So I kind of want to leave this to you. Do you have any last announcements or things we need to know about?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe, no, I think, you know, these have been really extraordinary times to watch. With the ceding government as a public official seeing what's happened nationally. It does, it does concern me, I'm hopeful that as we turn the page on a new year, as we turn the page on a new federal administration, that we're all able to kind of try to tamp down the anger and the divisiveness that I'm afraid has characterized us too much in the last few years, and really focus on a lot of mutual goals that I think most of us share, and thinking about how to get that done together. Not have our opponent become our enemy, as some people talk about. But reminding and remembering that we're all members of this community and kind of modeling the behavior of how to recognize we may not agree on every step, but let's work together and not create enemies and anger but work more on trust and love and care and moving forward. I it's been a very challenging period. And what happened on January 6, was just kind of this surreal and horrible episode challenging our democracy and our mutual respect. And I'm very, I'm very hopeful, you know, that the integration goes well, that and smoothly, that we were able as communities to come together, recognize how much we have in common and move forward together that in this new year of 2021.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, thanks again for your time. Thanks for everybody who participated and watching Don't forget, you can also send a question any time. We will have you hopefully next next month again, for the February edition of Ask The mayor to news at Indiana public media.org. Next week, we'll visit with Nashville municipal manager, DAX Norton. Thanks for watching. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you, Joe. Have a good week.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Zoom)

Monroe County's COVID-19 positivity rate is the lowest in the state, vaccination roll-out is ongoing, why the city continues to remove people experiencing homelessness from a city park, and a site plan is being presented for the IU Health Bloomington Hospital redevelopment project.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Tuesday. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Indiana COVID numbers are slowly decreasing. Monroe County has the lowest positivity rate in the state. Are we starting to turn the corner a little bit here?

Hamilton: I'm really proud of our community, it's been a long road, it's still in it, we're in a marathon still. From early on, frankly, and we as most people know, we've had tighter regulations and earlier restrictions than the state as a whole. And I do think that has helped us having more people wearing masks, having more people really be socially physically distant from each other and such.

As a county, we were averaging two deaths a day for a period of time. In December, we're now one death a day average. And we had a couple days with a zero day seven day moving average. So deaths, our case numbers, and our hospitalizations are all trending in the right direction, which is good, of course. And it wasn't clear, that would happen after the holiday.

Hren: From the meetings you've attended, forums, the questions that we are getting here is. does it matter which vaccine you get, there's the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Hamilton: Right, those two are in emergency use authorization now and I think a third one may be coming. Let me say I'm not a doctor, not a health professional. But I do believe both of those approved vaccines are kind of used interchangeably. They're both, according to the data that has been shared, extremely effective, very, very effective vaccines. If we're going to get to the real protection that we want this year, we really want to have that ramping up. I'm really happy Indiana University I believe is soon going to be doing shots themselves. There'll be a vaccination delivery point, which is really helpful but all of it depends on getting the vaccines.

READ MORE: IU Health Tops 10K Vaccines In Bloomington, Ready To 'Flex Up' For More

Hren: That's something last week Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was worried about, is there going to be enough vaccine. Are you hearing or seeing anything about production not being able to keep up?

Hamilton: It's really good that we've had vaccines developed so quickly that we have to remember, scientists here and around the world did an amazing job of getting really effective vaccines. I am pleased that the Biden administration, which of course takes over January 20 at noon, has very aggressive plans to increase the speed of vaccinations even invoking I guess, the defense production act and those kinds of things to make sure we're producing the vaccines as quickly as possible. That's job one. I expect that the vaccine production will continue to ramp up.

pence-at-catalent.jpg
Vice President Mike Pence visited Bloomington's Catalent in December.

Hren: We had a number of questions come in about those who are homebound. Will someone be able to administer the vaccine to them?

Hamilton: Yes, the health department takes the lead on that - we've offered any way we can help. For example, our fire department is likely to become a distribution point. And they could do some of this delivery to the various places including homebound. There are definitely plans in place for that on site delivery. And again, that's mostly driven by the health department. But I know all of us are standing ready to help do that as we can.

Hren: Let's move on to this ongoing issue of those experiencing homelessness having their encampments removed. This past week on Twitter, the city released a statement about a visit to your home by housing advocates. Can you explain that a little bit more - who came to your home? What did they say?

Hamilton: Let me just first say I've been personally involved in trying to help improve housing, reduce housing insecurity, improve having housing for everyone, much of my professional life, it's something I care deeply about. I was around the table when Shalom began here in the community. 20 plus years ago, I've was the president of the board of Shalom, which is now called Beacon and have been a direct volunteer in various ways.

READ MORE: New Homeless Shelter Opens Alongside The B-Line Trail Near Switchyard Park

I've had people at my house, which is not something I recommend in these days of concern, but who've come to express a view about how we're treating our parks, our city parks. I have talked with people experiencing homelessness and heard about challenges. Anger doesn't really help us solve many problems. I think collaboration and focus. This community cares a lot and is making a lot of difference. We have emergency shelter beds sufficient to get everybody out of the cold. And we're going to continue to try to make sure people aren't exposed to the elements. We had a tragic death, on Christmas Eve of a person who died of exposure from being outside. We don't want people living and sleeping outside. And we do have shelter beds for people to get in out of the cold.

Local shelter head offers help to people sleeping in Seminary Park.
Local shelter officials offer help to people sleeping in Seminary Park.

Hren: I was there one night, when they were checking up on the homelessness in the park, the message from them was that the tent is their home, they don't want to go to a shelter. A female asked if her boyfriend could come along and they said no. Some might have religious requirements, there could be some LGBTQ issues. So what's the message then of removing their encampment if they say that's their home?

Hamilton: I guess the point I would make is those emergency beds. They may not be ideal for many of us, but they're emergency shelter beds to try to protect people's life and health. We also have hotel rooms for people experiencing COVID or have been exposed to that and a range of emergency shelter beds.

There are individuals who either choose or some who have challenges that steer them away from getting indoors or being in a shelter bed. And that's a that's a big, big challenge. We don't want people living outside. But some people do - that you don't get to just choose wherever you want to live outside. In a city, we do not allow encampments in the downtown public park, you can't do it in the middle of a sidewalk or private property, other people's private property. So we're trying to make sure people get into into safe spaces outside of the elements, which can be fatal. And we'll continue to work on that.

Sometimes we group people and act like they're all the same or have the same challenges. And they don't, they're different challenges. Each story is important and different. And we work very, very hard to try to make sure everybody can get the best situation they can.

Hren: So if many of these encampments just ended up moving elsewhere or get spread out through the city, is that a better alternative? I've heard there has been some at Switchyard Park, for example.

Hamilton: I'll tell you what the the experience that we had at Seminary was, we had in December of handful of people who are gathering during the day, very few, if any, sleeping over in early December. And we were seeking to end that. We did a moratorium on that and actually did get up to somewhere around 20 people sleeping per night, in Seminary Square, maybe even a little more.

We gradually worked with folks to find better alternatives. And we got that 20 down to 15. And then we got that 15 down to 10. And we're working person by person with our partners to try to find better options, then it came down to eight and by the middle of last week goes down to three or four people sleeping over. And there are some encampments out in the woods and that are kind of hard to see and hard to find. And we continue to work with people there to do the same thing to help them find better options.

Hren: One more quick thing on this, I know a lot of people have been upset about this issue. I wanted to paint this picture because it kind of hit me when I saw an advertisement for one of those dining experiences on Kirkwood Ave. with the bubble because of COVID and I was thinking, the city is closings streets for fine dining, but just a couple blocks away there is a homelessness issue. Is the city sending mixed messages?

Hamilton: I don't know that they're mixed messages. The focus is trying to keep people healthy and safe and respond to the pandemic and to respond to the city challenges. We know employment is important. And we've tried to help employers find new strategies to keep doing what they do safely with people. And we've been flexible about the use of facilities that way. On the other hand, we're also trying to make sure people stay safe in the winter. And sleeping outdoors in the winter is not safe.

Let me give a shout out to the shelters. They've done a fantastic job of protecting our our residents, including from COVID, we've only had, I think five cases a very small number of cases positive from shelters because they've been so careful with expanding their physical layout and protocols and protecting people. And that's a testament to try to help keep people safe.

Hren: One more question from a Jim on email, why did it take six years to complete construction on West 17th. The entire interstate highways have been built in less time.

Hamilton: I'm not sure six years of construction is accurate. But I do know that the 17th Street project did get delayed. We had some, frankly, we had some construction issues that occurred in the process that took about a year longer than it should have, in my view. I'm sorry about that. I'm glad it's open. Now it's going to be a really important corridor. We'll continue to do the best we can. And I'm appreciate everybody's patience.

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