MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. – Residents packed the common council chambers of City Hall during Tuesday night’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, some in support of and some against a petition filed by Interfaith Community PADS, a non-profit organization in Michigan City that offers emergency shelter and food for homeless men and women.
The goal of the petition, which was originally filed earlier this year in June, was to approve zoning of the old Sacred Heart Church building to be utilized as an emergency shelter for the homeless.
Sacred Heart Church, which was a former shelter location in partnership with Interfaith Community PADS for 17 years, closed its doors in April.
When Interfaith’s director, Harry Holtkamp, learned of the church’s plans to close, negotiations began for the non-profit to obtain the church’s building after closing.
“Within three days of them closing we were in meetings in the Bishop’s office to obtain that building,” Holtkamp stated in an interview. “The deal was that we needed to get zoning passed and the building could be ours.”
Residents came and filled the seats in the common council chambers for last night’s zoning appeals since the petition was once again on the agenda.
While most residents offered their support, some residents also had some concerns.
One resident addressed the board as a business owner on Franklin Street to express concerns that Michigan City is offering too many services to the homeless which is attracting them to move here to Michigan City.
Surrounding cities like East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond do not have shelters, and the homeless population from those areas are allegedly told to come to Michigan City.
Other residents, including two formerly homeless residents, spoke in support of the organization.
The two residents told their stories of living in the emergency shelters offered by Interfaith Community PADS and how the shelters and the support from Keys to Hope helped them find jobs and housing and get back on their feet and have since been doing well.
During last night’s meeting, the board initially discussed tabling the petition until the next meeting which would have delayed the program another month, however, after seeing the large amount of support the program is receiving from the community, the board unanimously voted to pass the zoning appeal with conditions that the non-profit shall make necessary improvements to the building to bring it up to code.
“We have to do upgrades to make it ADA compliant,” stated Holtkamp. “It needs bathrooms upstairs and downstairs and a fire suppression system for the building.”
Now, with the zoning appeal being passed, Interfaith Community PADS can take possession of the building and begin working on the upgrades needed to bring the building to code.
According to Holtkamp, the program does not expect the new location to be up and running until Fall of 2019.
During that time, Interfaith Community PADS will work on applying for grants and organizing fundraisers in order to raise funds to pay for the upgrades.
Once completed, the program hopes to utilize the building to centralize the homeless shelter for seven different church shelters in the area in an effort to keep the homeless from having to move from one place to the next each night as well as keeping costs of operating the shelters low.
The old Sacred Heart Church building is located at 1001 W 8th Street. Once operational, it would offer food and shelter to the homeless and easy access to public transportation.
Interfaith Community PADS works closely with Keys to Hope, a non-profit organization that helps homeless people get back on their feet by offering them counseling, computers to help them find jobs, and more.