Where’s the best location for a homeless shelter?
Out of sight isn’t an option. The best way to minimize homelessness is to address it, not hide it.
Fort Wayne Rescue Mission’s proposed new shelter at 400 E. Washington Blvd. would be three times the size of its Superior Street location but would include services designed to help the chronically homeless get back on their feet. The Rescue Mission’s current location – landlocked on all sides – won’t accommodate the expansion required to offer those programs.
The proposed facility includes a new community resource center that will link social agencies and clients in need of job placement assistance or mental health treatment. A state-of-the-art kitchen will allow for a large-scale food program. A health clinic will be available to address chronic conditions and illnesses among the homeless.
"Homelessness and poverty will not go away, but our community has the ability to drastically reduce the numbers of people who are facing poverty, homelessness, mental illness and trauma if we communicate better, collaborate more widely," The Rev. Donovan Coley, CEO and senior pastor of the Rescue Mission, said recently.
There’s a template for the community to do so in Des Moines, Iowa, one of the communities Fort Wayne leaders have studied for development ideas. In a presentation at Sweetwater early last year, the executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines shared how her organization stepped in to guide the process of building a new shelter and jump-start a $15 million capital campaign with a $100,000 grant.
The Central Iowa Shelter & Services opened its new facility in downtown Des Moines in 2012, offering many of the amenities proposed for the Rescue Mission’s new location.
Homelessness can’t be overlooked in Fort Wayne’s downtown development plans. It’s fortuitous that the Superior Street location is prime real estate as riverfront development plans progress, but the Rescue Mission needs more than a cash influx from the sale to realize its goal of a new shelter.
Announcement of the proposed location was made just last week. Some concerns already have been raised, and some might be insurmountable. But the community should keep an open mind about the need for the Rescue Mission to remain downtown and to accept that an improved facility could help solve challenges the current shelter can’t address.
Most important, the community must be prepared to step up and support the project financially. Helping the homeless requires helping those who understand how to serve the least fortunate among us.