Housing first for homeless making new strides in South Bend

A new model for sheltering the homeless is taking shape in South Bend. Builders are breaking ground at the site on Kemble and Indiana Avenue for new housing. City leaders have coined it the FUSE Project (Frequent Users Systems Engagement).

The goal is to get people under a roof, then treat the reasons why they're chronically homeless, but the project hit some budgetary issues related to water fees and unexpected construction costs. Now the city is upping its investment to keep the dirt moving.

The director of community investment, Brian Pawlowski, asked the South Bend Redevelopment Commission to increase the FUSE Project's budget from $25,000 to $30,000.

"They were starting to do their kind of plans, and realized that they were not aware of the new tap, and water, and sewer, and other fees, the city had started," he told the Commission.

They approved the motion unanimously.

The site's developer, the South Bend Heritage Foundation, said they are constructing 32 apartments for chronically homeless men.

"This is an apartment building we're building, it's not a shelter. These are apartments. These individuals will have leases," said Marco Mariani with the Heritage Foundation.

He said they're partnering with Oaklawn so they can also get help with mental health issues and addiction.

“It’s an attempt to first stabilize the housing and then help them with the other things in their lives so they can remain housed."

"You know if you're a homeless person and now you have 500 square feet and it's heated, and there's running water and plumbing, that certainly is very quickly going to improve your life," said Mariani.

The goal, he said, is to open their doors on Nov. 1.

"Our goal really is to have 15 housed by the end of the year and into March and April have all the units full," he said.

Mariani says a construction labor shortage and increase in material costs led to asking the city for help.

“There’s really a construction labor shortage, construction material costs have really risen," he said, “We had to make really extreme changes on this building and things that we really would have liked to do, we just couldn’t do because we couldn’t afford it."

Pawlowski said the city is glad to pitch in.

"It's got a lot of different partners to begin with, and I think the city just wanted to be an additional partner, show it's support and allow them to get through, start this project without their budget taking too much of a hit," he said.

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