Following complaints of criminal activity, aggressive panhandling and drug abuse in downtown Bloomington, Mayor John Hamilton introduced a series of city initiatives last year to address these issues.
Security cameras were installed to monitor Seminary and Peoples Parks, street signs were posted to discourage giving to panhandlers, and a task force was formed to recommend actions for the city.
This summer, the Bloomington Police Department increased downtown foot patrols which caused many in the homeless population to migrate to other areas. There has also been a recent uptick in drug overdoses in the city.
This week on Noon Edition, the panel discussed issues of safety and civility in downtown Bloomington and the initiatives meant to address them.
City, Community Leaders Discuss Policing & Safety Initiatives
Though the increased police presence has affected those who stay in Peoples Park, Bloomington Police Chief Diekhoff said the police are responding to generally inappropriate behaviors on Kirkwood.
"We not only get complaints about who you might perceive to be homeless who's drunk or has a mental health issue, but get complaints of college students who are also exhibiting bad behavior downtown," Diekhoff said.
Co-owner of Nick's English Pub Gregg Rago has serviced the downtown public for decades. He acknowledged that the main issue is addiction.
"Homelessness is an issue, but the issue we're talking about does not have to do with homelessness," he said. "It has to do with addictions, mental health issues. Our state does not have facilities to take care of people that need mental help."
There was a lot of discussion about where people downtown are allowed to sleep and loiter. Some ideas floated included a designated campsite, which Chief Diekhoff said becomes an issue of safety.
One caller asked Shalom Community Center Executive Director Forrest Gilmore how housing-first programs fit into the downtown situation.
Shalom's housing-first program Crawford Homes provides 40 permanent homes for those with disabilities and suffering from chronic homelessness.
Gilmore said this is not only beneficial to the people experiencing homelessness, but is more cost-effective for the community.
"We know, based on studies in other communities, that generally it saves about $20,000 per person when you're providing housing for someone who had been chronically homeless," Gilmore said. "It's actually less expensive on the community as a whole to help people move into houses."
The same caller also asked Community and Family Resources Director Beverly Calendar-Anderson if the city is looking to provide similar housing options.
"The city is looking at some diversity in housing options. We are not looking at starting a shelter. We do support Shalom, Crawford, some of the other housing that happens in the city," Calender-Anderson said. "So through our grants programs and some direct support, we support it in that way but we are not looking to open a city shelter."
Gilmore pointed out that there is a difference in outcome between community shelters and housing-first programs. In the first year of Crawford Homes, the program experienced a 65 percent decrease in emergency room use and an 88 percent decrease in incarceration.
The city is also exploring other options put forward by the Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force. Some of these include a park maintenance jobs programs, mental health training, and a portable public restroom program.
Dozens of listeners participated in the conversation, with more questions and comments than could be addressed during the show.
If your question or comment was not addressed this week, you can contact our panelists:
Forrest Gilmore, Executive Director of Shalom Community Center: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bloomington Police Chief Michael Diekhoff: email@example.com
Beverly Calender-Anderson, Community and Family Resources Director: firstname.lastname@example.org