City seeks to rezone land on southeast side for ‘low barrier’ homeless shelter

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A homeless man on the Circle (IBJ photo/Chad Williams)

The city wants to rezone 11 parcels at the intersection of Shelby and East Georgia streets on the southeast edge of downtown Indianapolis to build a “housing hub” that will include the city’s first low-barrier homeless shelter.

Officials with Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration explained the plan Wednesday evening to a crowded room, including many neighbors, at the Southeast Community Services building on Shelby Street, less than a mile from the proposed development. 

The city acquired the land several months ago for $2.1 million and wants to build a 24-hour center to address the needs of families and individuals facing homelessness or housing instability. The development would straddle East Georgia Street on the western side of Shelby Street.

“This facility that we’re planning is going to help fill the gaps in our current system to solve for homelessness,” said Andrew Merkley, administrator for the city’s Division of Homelessness and Eviction Prevention. 

The proposed complex, which has not yet been completely designed, is expected to be about 90,000 square feet and include 50 apartments, an emergency shelter with an undetermined number of beds, restrooms and shower facilities, a health center for wound care and other medical needs, offices for case management and social services, and a parking lot. 

The development is about three blocks from IndyGo’s planned Blue Line bus rapid transit on Washington Street, which could help homeless people get around town, Merkley said. 

The site is intended to become a “housing hub” that would centralize city resources for neighbors experiencing homelessness. The “low barrier” would have few restrictions for people seeking housing. Many shelters turn away those with criminal histories, enforce strict rules and separate families, partners or pets. 

The parcels are currently zoned industrial, and the Hogsett administration plans to ask the city’s zoning office and City-County Council to approve a rezoning to “commercial special.” The city wants to develop the land in partnership with Indianapolis-based not-for-profit Rdoor Housing Corp. (formerly Merchants Affordable Housing Corp.), an affordable housing developer. 

The rezoning process is likely to take 90 to 120 days and will include a public hearing. Rdoor hopes to break ground on the site by next summer, and the construction will take 18 to 24 months, said Bryan Conn, vice president of development for Rdoor. 

The site would be managed by an outside company that has not yet been chosen. 

Conn said the development likely would not lead to decreased property values nearby. To back that up, he said his firm examined the surrounding property values of Wheeler Mission’s $13 million, 44,200-square-foot expansion in 2021 at its Center for Women & Children on the northwest corner of East Michigan Street and North LaSalle Street, immediately next to its 10-story building.

The firm pulled property-sale records in a one-quarter mile radius of the Wheeler development for a three-year period before and another three-year period after the project. What they found was the property values actually increased during that period, although a little bit less than Marion County average property sales prices overall.

“The point is not that we think this development will lead to some increase in property values specifically because of the project, but that it does not necessarily mean that property values will decrease because this development happens,” Conn said. 

More than 20 people in the audience spoke after the presentation, most of them in favor of the project. 

Laney Glick, who lives about a block and a half from the site, said she often walks by the property on her way to work at Second Helpings, a hunger-relief agency, and sees the need for more help for homeless people. 

“I see people sleeping in bushes on my walk,” she said. “I already see trash and needles, which is what I’ve heard is a concern. Giving these people a place to just be is so beautiful and so important. I just can’t imagine placing property values over human lives.” 

Jared Loper, who lives in St. Clair Place on the near-east side, said he supported the plan because the need is so great. 

“This is actually really thrilling for us to see … because we have nothing but gaps for unhoused folks here,” he said. “This is great. This is fantastic.” 

John MaVris, who owns a house that abuts the proposed site, said he often donates food and money to homeless people in the area, but he is concerned about a large new project for a new housing hub. He said he has owned houses on nearby Georgia Street, and one was broken into three times, with people sleeping in the house. The fourth time, he found a campfire in the basement of the house. 

He asked why city officials bought the property without talking to neighbors first. “I’m a believer in community, and I think you let me down,” he said. 

Darrell Mitchell, executive director of Progress House, an alcohol and drug recovery residence on Shelby Street near the site, said he understood the uncertainty and fear surrounding the project. 

“I would encourage everybody to try to, instead of persuading, to listen and to learn. … And there is an opportunity for us to figure out what’s best for everybody.”

The presentation was hosted by Southeast Neighborhood Development, a not-for-profit community development corporation that advocates for housing, economic and social equity.

Brittany Crone, director of community outreach for Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Office, encouraged the audience to keep asking questions and to learn more about the proposal.

“No matter where you land on your opinion of what the project is, we’re grateful to have this opportunity to meet with you all, to share what we know and to hear your questions,” she said.

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18 thoughts on “City seeks to rezone land on southeast side for ‘low barrier’ homeless shelter

    1. The recent Mile Square tax goes to pay for the operations of the shelter. I believe some leftover one-time federal funds are being used as well.

    2. I’m concerned that the organization of this project is more fractured than stable. According to last night’s leaders, this dream does not have an operator or security or enough independent housing for the already many who tell me they are on lists for housing. I was remiss in not asking how long they believe it takes to rehabilitate this mental illness. My experience and consultants agree, at least 2 years of monitoring. its not easy to recondition or cognitively change behavioral thinking.

    3. While it’s comforting that they chose a no-mans-land part of town to build this noxious use, this won’t exactly help spur revitalization of that great building that housed Indiana City Brewery until recently.

      Whatever the budget ends up being, rest assured it won’t be enough. First, it will draw people from a huge radius who can come and get three-hots-and-a-cot while remaining junkies, so it will exceed capacity within weeks if not days. Additionally, the operational costs will need to include liability: sky-high salaries to hire people willing to work with these unpredictable zombies, the numerous police calls, the fights, the theft, the likelihood of vehicular collisions as these zonked out people wander in the street with no regard. And, of course the clean up of garbage, stolen bicycles, feces, and needles. If Indy’s lucky, maybe they’ll even get some bombed-out RVs parked in the area.

      Here’s a hint of what it will look like, sent to me by a friend. Yes, this is our nation’s capital: https://maps.app.goo.gl/Upm4GQotZNWJ58517

      John’s concerns are well-founded. The entire concept is faulty because it treats drug addiction as a mental illness and not the moral failing that it clearly is. I’ll concede that, unfortunately, many of these people probably took opioids like Oxycontin in good faith, and that the Sackler family is getting sued out of oblivion. But this isn’t schizophrenia. They voluntarily perpetuate their addictions. At a certain point they all recognize they’re addicted, and this sad place is where they go if they DON’T want to get clean but would rather society enable their poor decision-making.

    4. Lauren’s comments are the reality of life and this mental illness. I can only assume that the current Low barrier plan as is written is a political facade destin for, ever failure to the homeless and tax payers and those in the plan that really don’t understand the human recovery process for extreme change of self.
      While all that is happening, a plethora of business investors like the owner of Geraldines will shy from the area. There are several locations on Shelby with huge potential. There are other entrepreneurs who were putting passion and energy behind growth potential. I say again for those who need reminding; 20 years ago Mass avenue and Fountain Square were a mess.
      I’m afraid Zoning will be the only redemption if they have the courage to understand.
      The Mayor has not responded to my online and paper requests. Neither has the Governor.
      As much as I would now like to sell it all, i’d rather stay and continue to watch this area grow into an I TOLD YOU SO wonder.

    5. Lauren, you clearly suffer from the illness of lack of empathy and humanity. Drug addiction is in fact an illness. And you are amongst those who complain about the homeless but then when something like this is planned in an attempt to address the problem you pan that too. And I’m guessing you consider yourself a Christian.

    6. Catcalls from the peanut gallery are cheap. As usual, Lauren snipes from the sidelines without offering any pragmatic solution to the problem.

    7. Why Lauren I don’t see anything unusual about the picture in the link provided. That pretty much looks like 21st Street around Shadeland Ave. Mattresses all under the interstate, shopping carts in ditches. Trash everywhere.

    8. Brent – when your ideas add up to what may as well be a circular firing squad, what do you expect?

      Since the state of Indiana doesn’t want to invest in the infrastructure to address mental health and addiction, getting those suffering out of the downtown business district is unfortunately the only thing on the table. Hopefully it has the additional staffing to plug people into the resources for the above,

      It’d not as “easy” as rounding up the undesirables in a reeducation camp and beating them into submission.

    9. Thank you Robert, I most certainly do suffer from a lack of empathy and humanity. Most homeless are drug addicts and drug addicts are scum and deserve to have their teeth kicked in. I base this on experience, having been as stupidly optimistic as you at one point in the past. Until I got robbed a few too many times. They’d still your kidneys and sell them to feed their addiction.

      The best way to ensure that a junkie will remain a junkie is to call it an “illness”–it means it is beyond their control and gives them nothing to aspire to, because, after all, they couldn’t help it when they first pushed that needle into their vein. It is not an illness. Beyond those who became addicted to prescription Oxycontin (for whom I have some sympathy), they CHOSE to perpetuate their addiction.

      Low-barrier shelters will NOT address the problem. It will do exactly what it’s been doing in Washington DC, Portland, Seattle, and apparently South Bend (which got it low barrier shelter a few months ago in a much more populated area than Indy).

      Richard, please show everyone here at IBJ how much better of a person you are than I am. Take a few junkies into your spare bedroom. You’ll instantly face the same hazards the hapless employees at a low-barrier shelter will face. What about the tiny percentage of homeless who are clean? The ones who are schizophrenics (a real mental illness) or down on their luck? These people typically don’t remain homeless and they won’t want to step foot in such a place. It’s exclusively a sanctuary for junkies.

      Indeed, Brent, catcalls from the peanut gallery are cheap. So is faux moral indignation and finger wagging. The pragmatic solution is to give these people such a miserable bottom that they don’t have a place to eat or defecate…so they have no choice but to pursue treatment. Naloxone is a cruel anodyne, since they clearly like poisoning themselves. If that’s what they prefer, why not let them die?

      And then of course there’s Joe. Since Indiana “doesn’t want to invest in the infrastructure to address mental health and addiction”, should we be more like one of those progressive states out West that devote hundreds of millions and only continue to watch their problem grow and grow and grow? Talking about shoving money into a Porta-Potty. If you want to see a “re-education camp” you should just try your average public school.

      I might not be nice. But at least I’m honest. You’re a bunch of kind-hearted liars. Which makes your empathy baseless.

    10. Lauren, we should invest the money. Closing the mental hospitals was a terrible idea.

      Also, not seeing evidence that the South Bend low barrier shelter is exclusively for junkies.

      “ Motels4Now originally began as housing for those who had been homeless for years.

      McCarthy says that’s not often the case anymore.

      “The people that are coming in now, almost all of them have been homeless for less than a year,” said McCarthy.

      She says the reason for the recent spike in homelessness is because the Eviction Moratorium was lifted. That prevented renters from being evicted during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

      https://wsbt.com/news/local/homeless-housing-face-4-6-months-long-wait-motels4now-shelter-knights-inn-motel-lodging-lincoln-way-west-south-bend

  1. Robert
    I think you may have misunderstood Lauren. If her past did include drugs, she reached the other side and she is more qualified than you give her credit. If theats true, i honer her for rea hing awareness. There is empathy and there is reality. Too many people don’t understand both sides. I’m afraid I have to disagree with your diagnosis that this falls under Christianity. And I am not a Christian. However I did study human behavior, anatomy and christianity for 20 years. I invite you to volunteer for the shelter cause. They can use you.

    1. Thanks John. My experience with opioids is first-hand in the sense that I have had three family members who were addicts; one still is. Thankfully never one myself, though the stress of dealing with addicts almost made me consider it.

      I tried to take one addicted nephew in after his parents kicked him out. Loaned him money, helped him build a resume, bought him nice clothes… thought he was going clean. Then I started recognizing that I couldn’t find things. Thought I was just getting absent-minded. I didn’t want to believe he was the cause and was just about to let another cousin live with me. Until the time I came home and saw my home had been ransacked and valuables taken that only he knew about. Suddenly I realized why his parents (my sister and brother-in-law) had been so “mean” to him. Another cousin of mine absorbed the issues of the cousin addict. So glad I dodged that bullet, since she had the same problems with that junkie (female) that I did with my nephew.

      Christianity may be (or at least claims to be by its practitioners) about love, but if the love is absent truth it has no basis. Who was it that said he was the Way and the Truth and the Life. It’s not just about being a nice person. Watching a person destroy their lives through an addiction and saying “there there now, you’re still doing great” is being nice, but it’s not truthful. Whether the addiction is heroin, or alcohol, or food, or gambling, or video games–it is impeding a person from living a good pure constructive life, and we do them no favors by enabling the addictive behavior.

  2. Soon this written battle will come to a close like the marketing of Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Gaza. This is the American way. We bitch a while and then get back in our mouse holes.
    I agree with the concept of helping people. What I don’t agree with, are the empathetics that just vote for it without exploration and real knowledge. I don’t agree with all of laurens suggestions but she speaks more truth of what is reality . Go to Instagram and search homeless recovery. Or, go to a search engine and ask the recovery period for homeless. You need to be screwed over by everyone you tried to help and shows you, you’ve been duped. If you want some education its worth it. Lauren is angry. Probably more at the Yay sayers who just say YES to something they really don’t understand.
    This initiative took Millions of dollars out of the state and federal funds before they lost the opportunity. They greedily bought land without a fully written plan. This plan was a study performed 2 years ago. Without a full plan they stepped into my back yard (litterally) . They don’t have nearly a written plan. It takes at least every bit of 2 years to rehabilitate a homeless. And first, the homeless has to profoundly want it. Hey… they don’t want our rules. They are Mentally ill. This camp is opening without enough cells or professionals to help these homeless. wait, they don’t even know who is going to operate it. If you empethethysers want to help you should take a week in this weather and interview some homeless. Tonight i saw one breaking into a Mayflower truck for a place to sleep. Last week they
    were on my front porch sleeping while taking electricity. This…. is mental illness that doesn’t get cured with an aspirin.

  3. sorry, one more line: You don’t cure an alcoholic or addict by training them to always say “I’m an Addict” You told your child he is stupid and now look at what you have. I understand the AA concept but there is such of thing as I use to be in recovery, now i’m in DISCOVERY. That’s the self love we need to teach. We have enough parents who influenced their children to get a gun and kill their peers.

  4. There are no easy answers. These apartments need to go to people who want to get well. There are some that if given the chance will get sober and turn their life around. The 1st step is admitting they are an addict. BUT THAT IS ONLY THE 1ST STEP. I think there are 11 more steps in AA. Just stopping your addiction doesn’t help either. You have to be committed to get healing and deal with the pain that drove you to the addiction in the 1st place. Stop encouraging people to stay victims. People need to be taught to be responsible for their actions. Stop blaming the system, family, schools etc Society has taught them they came from big glob or ape called the big bang and that they go back to the ground when they die. Why try if that is what you have been taught? I don’t believe this way but I would be slammed if I say what the answer that has the best chance of occurring is.

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