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Community leaders seek solutions for homeless community

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg// WSBT 22

When it gets cold and temperatures drop, people with no place to get out of the elements often have a hard time.

That's why community leaders are speaking out about homelessness.

A rally was held downtown, Wednesday evening. Advocates say homeless people need to be off the street. Those advocates have specific requests for the city.

Homeless advocates and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg seem to agree on one thing: They want every human who's been sleeping outside inside and out of the cold.

It's the former home Harry Yazell says was horrendous.

"They were threatening people, throwing bottles, yelling, screaming, couldn't sleep,” said Yazell.

It was life sleeping under the Main Street bridge in South Bend for five months last winter. Wednesday, he has an apartment but is back pounding the pavement for a purpose.

"I'm here to help my friends who are homeless,” said Yazell.

Supporters of Michiana Five for the Homeless rallied outside the mayor's office, asking the city to find a bed for every homeless person. HUD’s latest "point in time count" reports that's more than 460 people in St. Joseph County.

“There are just nights when there are more people than there are beds and it is really hard to look somebody in the eye and say we don't have room for you when it's so bitterly cold outside,” said Lani Vivirito.

She says the city's three amnesty shelters have capacity for at least 55 people-- but those beds haven't all been full lately.

Buttigieg says after city crews cleared out people living under the Main Street bridge he went there himself to see why people had returned.

"Both of those individuals, I encouraged them to go to the center, I offered to walk them there and help them with their things, and they declined,” said Buttigieg.

He says reports of violence, including a recent assault, make the bridge unsafe.

Yazell says he hopes people living his old life use some of the open beds.

With the winter amnesty shelters and the spots that are open year round at the city shelters, the mayor says there are a total of 708 slots available for shelter.

The mayor stressed for winter amnesty you don't even need to be sober or clean, you just need to show up.

County leaders say they're making even more space for people living on the streets who need a bed at night.

61 new cots are being distributed to shelters that are part of the winter amnesty program.

The Saint Joseph County Emergency Management Agency says a $2,000 state grant paid for the cots.

Shelter leaders say some of the cots will replace old, worn out ones. They'll even allow for fewer people to have to sleep on the floor.

"We have an increasing homeless population obviously in the City of South Bend specifically and Saint Joseph County as a whole, so we just wanted to do our due diligence to help as best we can with the situation and that is what we our contribution would be,” said Kalee Foreman, Deputy Director of the St. Joseph County EMA.

City officials estimate there are 500 homeless men, women and children in South Bend.

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