Bloomington OKs zoning requirement for Beacon’s new shelter, supportive housing facility on 3rd Street

Sometime in late 2024 or possibly into 2025, Beacon, Inc. plans to start construction of a new facility across from Rose Hill Cemetery on 3rd Street.

The 45,000-square-foot two-story building, which will include a day shelter, a 50-bed overnight shelter, 20 one-bedroom apartments, and 5 work-to-live units for on-site staff, will be made legally possible by a conditional use approval for “supportive housing” that was granted by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA) at its Thursday night meeting.

The vote by BZA members on the conditional use petition was 4–0.

Beacon, which serves Bloomington’s houseless population, now operates a day shelter, the Shalom Center, which is on Walnut Street, south of Seminary Park. Beacon also operates an overnight shelter called Friends Place, at 919 S. Rogers Street, which is south of Dodds Street.

The concept for the new project is to co-locate Beacon’s existing day shelter and overnight shelter, which will be located on the first floor of the new two-story building. The first floor is planned to include a commercial kitchen, bathrooms, showers, laundry, and a mailroom.

The new program of supportive housing units will occupy the second floor of the new building. The second floor will include 20 one-bedroom apartments for supportive housing and another five apartments for staff, who will be able to live there as part of their compensation for working at the facility.

The land purchase and a big part of the construction will be covered with a $7 million grant that Beacon received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Continue reading “Bloomington OKs zoning requirement for Beacon’s new shelter, supportive housing facility on 3rd Street”

20 supportive housing units, day/overnight shelters proposed by Beacon on West 3rd Street

Beacon, Inc. is looking to use a $7 million grant it received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to build a new facility with 20 supportive housing apartments, across 3rd Street from Rose Hill Cemetery.

But in order to pursue that project—which is also planned to include a day shelter, an overnight shelter, and five staff apartments—Beacon will need approval from Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA). That  approval is subject to the conditional use criteria that are laid out in the city’s  unified development ordinance (UDO).

Beacon’s proposal is the second item on the BZA’s Thursday agenda. The BZA meeting, which will be held in city council chambers at city hall, starts at 5:30 p.m. Continue reading “20 supportive housing units, day/overnight shelters proposed by Beacon on West 3rd Street”

Bloomington mayoral primary forum: Are we scared of being the best at taking care of the less fortunate?

2023 Democratic Primary candidates for mayor of Bloomington, from left: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg, and Kerry Thomson. (March 28, 2023 Heading Home forum)

At a Tuesday evening event for mayoral hopefuls in the Democratic Party’s May 2 primary, moderators from Heading Home of South Central Indiana quizzed the candidates about housing for low-income residents and homelessness.

The hosts also flipped the usual script for part of the event.

Each candidate had submitted one question for the audience to answer on arrival at the venue—Crestmont Boys and Girls Club on the north side of town. The questions were accessible through a QR code that appeared on a handout at the reception table.

Out of the roughly 100 people who attended, 58 responded to the three questions.

Co-moderator Leon Gordon, who is administrative director for Bloomington Housing Authority, reported a perfect 50-50 split for the question submitted by Don Griffin:

Are we as a community scared of being the best at taking care of those that are less fortunate?

Griffin then gave his take on the response to the audience poll question, followed by Susan Sandberg  and Kerry Thomson. Continue reading “Bloomington mayoral primary forum: Are we scared of being the best at taking care of the less fortunate?”

Friday, Aug. 20 deadline posted: B-Line bridge encampment removal to be guided by new general police order

View of the B-Line Trail bridge at Grimes Lane looking northeast. (Aug. 17, 2021)

Bloomington officials are now looking to remove the encampment under the B-Line Trail bridge at Grimes Lane. It was established around four and half months ago.

On Tuesday, sometime before 5 p.m., several signs were posted by the city of Bloomington under the bridge and along the trail. The signs give formal notice of a deadline for the campers to find a different place to sleep.

Over the last few weeks, the camp’s footprint has expanded north of the bridge to include around a dozen tents along the east side of the B-Line Trail.

The posted signs read: “If you stay here overnight, please find safe shelter elsewhere by Friday, Aug. 20.”

The signs include a list of resources like the Shalom Community Center, Friends Place, Wheeler Mission, and New Hope Family Shelter.

No clock time is given for the deadline.

That’s consistent with the city’s past approach to such posted notices. The signs posted in Seminary Park at the start of the year described the deadline as “on or about Jan. 11.” Action by the city to remove the Seminary Park campers came on Jan. 14.

A prelude to the city’s posting of notices on Tuesday came a day earlier. That’s when the mayor’s office released a document described as updating the city of Bloomington “policies regarding behaviors in and use of public spaces with the goals of improving safety and health, and maintaining public space for the benefit of all.”

A highlight of the document is a new general police order, dated Aug. 13, 2021, with the title “Police Interaction with Homeless Encampments.” The order describes certain procedures that are supposed to be followed by the police when removing a homeless encampment.

Continue reading “Friday, Aug. 20 deadline posted: B-Line bridge encampment removal to be guided by new general police order”

American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal

When Bloomington mayor John Hamilton announced at a news conference in early June that some of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding would be used for housing supports, no dollar amounts were attached.

Now released as a part of the city council’s July 21 meeting information packet is a plan for spending the estimated $22.3 million in ARPA funding that the city is expected to receive through the federal legislation.

An appropriation ordinance that echoes the numbers in the ARPA plan will get a first reading at the meeting.

The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, to help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing supports, at $1.65 million, are about half of the total in the initial ordinance.

The breakdown for housing is: a $1.2 million grant to the United Way of Monroe County to address homelessness and housing insecurity; a $250,000 grant to the Bloomington Housing Authority to create affordable housing options; and $200,000 to encourage participation by landlords in the federal Section 8 voucher program.

On Friday, the United Way released the report and recommendations of a working group that has been convening since last year to address the question of how to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-repeating.” [Heading Home 2021] Continue reading “American Rescue Plan Act: Bloomington mayor’s initial request to city council: $3.35M for support of housing, the arts, lead pipe removal”

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  $1.6 million more 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”