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Page last updated on October 11, 2018 at 11:10 am

Thank you all for coming, gathering as many of us did 11 months ago, at the public library, one of the central meeting places of our community, a focus of downtown. Thanks to the library for hosting us.

As we met last August, we talked about the importance of safety, civility, and justice in our community, and particular challenges in our downtown. We talked about the need for experimentation, trying things out and seeing what worked. Because we know it’s important for people to BE and FEEL safe in our community, and because we know it’s important for our community to reflect shared values of CIVILITY and JUSTICE, we outlined several steps to take.

Today I want to report to the community where we are, including progress and recent notable challenges, and outline additional steps ahead.

We must begin with the reminder that we are confronting a complex set of issues that challenge people in our community, issues that have been brewing for years and that are found across our state and our country. We have a crisis in affordable housing and the connected problem of homelessness. We have nearly unprecedented disparities in economic prosperity and opportunity, with the related impacts of grinding poverty. We have terribly challenged mental health systems, and so many people whose diseases go untreated. And we have a national epidemic of substance abuse, with skyrocketing levels of overdoses and addictions.

In the face of these challenges, and recent very visible evidence of them, our community of compassion seeks to do the right things. We work together to protect individual people and families. We work to support opportunity. We redouble our efforts when we fall short. We want to reward diligence and hard work and constructive efforts. We want to deter and reduce destructive or damaging behaviors.

Let me state unequivocally that even as our community pulls together to respond to real challenges, there is no doubt that we must have stronger support from our state and national governments. Some of the threatened changes in health care, in social service funding, in tax policy, in education support, and more, pose dramatic threats to our progress on these issues. Just last month we learned the federal government is continuing to cut support for housing and community development programs, next year cutting another $80,000 locally. We know that terrible threats to Medicaid for addiction services and mental health coverage are being proposed by the powers that control Washington DC. Let us never forget that we depend upon common sense and compassionate policies out of state and federal government.

As your mayor, representing all city residents, I want today particularly to thank our local public servants who work every day to protect this place we call home and to make it more safe, compassionate and welcoming. This includes our public safety employees of course, on the front line every day. And all our employees who help make this city work, with clean water, and parks and trails, and clean, safe streets, and sanitation. I want to thank our community’s incredible array of social service providers. Our health care professionals. Our faith organizations. Our employers. Our residents. We have much to do together.

Last August, we began some work to address these challenges in what I’ll call Phase 1, for safety, civility and justice, announced here at the library. It included several important activities. Among those steps: We installed several cameras in public places to help monitor and deter illegal activity. We increased programming in downtown parks, to increase overall presence in and utilization of the parks. We launched an effort to encourage less giving directly on the streets to panhandlers, and more to the social service providers so active in our community. We increased downtown police patrols and monitored compliance with state and local laws governing panhandling. And very importantly, we engaged the Community Justice and Mediation Center (CJAM) and a community task force to initiate and lead an inclusive process of community planning to develop additional approaches.

To give a too-short summary as we look back: the cameras and police patrols helped identify and deter inappropriate activities. The increased parks programming and PR efforts about street donations were less demonstrably effective in the short run. The CJAM and task force process brought vitally important results including reviewing these various approaches.

Phase 2 began a couple of months ago in May, through an interim report of the Downtown Safety, Civility & Justice Task Force. After extensive outreach and interviews, research and deliberation, the Task Force made some interim recommendations that have been implemented: Additional parks programming was begun. Outreach to excise police and downtown alcohol establishments sought to deter practices like over-pouring, selling to minors or those already intoxicated. We expanded downtown eyes-on-the-street by training parking enforcement officers and engaging IU Police to spend additional hours on patrol downtown. We reached out to other jurisdictions to cooperate in planning with services and avoid shifting problems from one to the other. And we launched a jobs program to offer employment to people experiencing some of the challenges we’re discussing, to help patrol and clean up downtown parks, done in coordination with Centerstone and our Parks & Recreation Department. I’ll note that today this jobs program is underway, with five formerly unemployed people being paid to oversee operations and protect the quality of our downtown parks, in shifts covering seven afternoons a week. I’m told they are enthusiastic and excellent employees at this job. [some may be in the room with us today….thank you all for your work in our community.]

Phase 2 concluded on June 15 when the community-based Task Force shared its final report publicly, making numerous recommendations to be considered. Let me thank again the 10 members of that Task Force who worked diligently and creatively for five months on behalf of our community to identify best practices going forward.

Phase 3 began immediately thereafter. Activities already begun in light of the Task Force recommendations include: continued increased downtown patrolling and active enforcement against illegal behaviors. Reaching out to external connections to coordinate responses better, including other communities and their providers, the justice system, parole boards and such. Continued work to expand housing options, such as pocket neighborhoods (recently approved by council); Crawford 2; and our Housing Authority which continues to support housing for 1,500 households experiencing poverty.

It’s no secret that over the past weeks our community has had some very visible signs of the challenges we face, as we’ve seen a rash of overdoses -- dozens in the past couple of weeks, including one fatality -- and activities on our streets and in our parks that have challenged our community.

I want to thank directly our first responders and our health community who have borne the brunt of difficult responses over the past several weeks. They have given extra hours and heroic efforts to save lives and protect our community. I want to express our deepest concerns about the people experiencing these addictions and other health and basic human challenges in our midst. Our city of compassion aches to see the human toll of these past few weeks.

Let me be clear about something. We will not abide people who peddle illegal drugs in our community, creating and feeding addictions that are so destructive to individual lives, to families, and to our community. We will enforce laws and pursue those who are bringing these poisons, often literally poisons, who are preying on vulnerable people including youth, who are acting violently, in our community. Let me be clear that these behaviors have no place in our community, and we will steadfastly and energetically protect our community against them.

It’s important also to point out that the recent, most visible signs of challenges are just the most visible tip of a terrible set of challenges that continue to run throughout our community -- indeed the country -- that even when not as visible, demand our serious attention and our strong compassion. Our neighbors, friends and family members do not seek to become addicted to substances, or to live in poverty, or without a home, or to suffer from a mental illness. Two weeks ago I met in my office with a woman, and her young son, formerly homeless, currently living in The Rise, who came with ideas about how we can help those living on our streets. Yesterday I met in my office with a young man, in recovery, a returning citizen, working two local jobs at 40 or 50 hours per week, but now homeless, desperate to get back on his feet. Our community believes in compassion and solutions. We know these big challenges will require steady collaboration over a long period of time. And that’s what we do in Bloomington.

It’s why we see our tenacious and compassionate faith communities hard at work to develop a sustainable model for the Interfaith Winter Shelter. It’s why last year Shalom Center took over the struggling emergency shelter, now A Friends Place. It’s why our county health department is overseeing a needle exchange program to reduce the harm that comes from drug use. It’s why even just yesterday it was announced that Bloomington will host a new opioid treatment facility offering medical interventions and services to reduce opioid addiction by next summer. And it’s why our county leaders, with cooperation from the city and many others, have organized a critical Summit on Sept 28th to address the opioid crisis.

It’s why next Monday, I’ll be meeting with Governor Holcomb and will ask his support to address the flow of drugs into our community and to work with us on ensuring that folks released from state prisons are not abandoned in our community. I’ve been told that chemical tests of “spice” that is causing local overdoses can at times show nothing illegal in the drug. Our state government must work with us to give law enforcement the tools it needs to stem the flow of this dangerous drug into our community. And I’ll thank him for the State’s efforts to open a treatment center here in Bloomington.

The stakes in our efforts here high. They involve hundreds, indeed thousands of our fellow residents, who suffer from various challenges of poverty, homelessness, mental health, addiction, unemployment and more. These are individuals, our neighbors, who are not living lives that they would choose. Our community is poorer because of it. And it involves children, whose whole future is ahead of them, innocent victims of these challenges. Just as one staggering data point, Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), just two years ago in 2015, was referred 365 kids for services -- one per day. (I’ll note that was already up almost 50% from the two years before that.) This year, through June, CASA already has been referred over 600 kids -- the pace has grown from one per day to more than three per day -- almost all of which are removed from their families due to drug issues. That’s a 200% increase in pace in two years and five-fold in four years. The stakes are very high, for every one of these kids, and for all of us.

As a community, we will need full partnerships to address the underlying big issues. Treatment for addictions. More housing. Better community alternatives to the appeal of drug use. Mental health services. Better and more jobs. It’s going to take resources. Money. Talent. From all of us. Of course this isn’t city government’s problem to solve alone or necessarily even primarily. We need continued collaboration from the key partners of city, county, and township governments; from Indiana University; from health providers and institutions like IU Health, Centerstone, Monroe Hospital, Meadows Hospital, VIM, and more. From faith communities. Social service providers. Business community. Housing providers like BHA. (And absolutely from state and federal government) Remember that this is costing all of us money and talent right now, as a result of the behaviors and casualties of our current situation. We learned from Crawford Homes that getting housing first saves lives and also saves money. We should note that our count of homeless in town actually went down this January compared to last year.

Let me share some specifics of Phase 3, that I believe are some of the steps we should be taking together. Most of these are directly a result of the Task Force recommendations:

  • We will be pursuing new restroom facilities open to the public, as recommended
  • We will seek expanded hours for day shelter services in town
  • We will create more centralized information about relevant services, including through a dedicated web-page on the city website
  • We will seek to activate more of our alleys, with lighting, arts and programming
  • We will continue to increase programming in downtown city parks
  • We will continue increased downtown eyes-on-the-streets presence in a sustainable way, including with a possible ‘ambassadors’ program

And finally, I will be asking partners such as the county, IU, and other local leaders to create a working group to implement our efforts together, meeting periodically to develop metrics and accountability so we can see what works, measure our impact, . This working group will meet periodically to advise all of us about our progress and continued challenges.

Other key issues are in front of us. Is there any local legislation that would be helpful? What are the sustainable funding sources that as a community we can coordinate or expand to meet these needs? Can we keep momentum to build our local economy and housing options so fewer families face challenges?

And let me offer some suggestions for the public at large. Please show your support for our local public safety personnel who are working so hard on our behalf. And for our local social service and religious institutions that are doing the same. And for our fellow residents who are suffering. Donate generously of your time and money to our community anchors -- don’t give on the street, but give to institutions doing good. Volunteer, at CASA, or your faith institution or a social service agency, or your local school. And avoid simplistic quick, but wrong, solutions, or stereotyping, or scapegoating, or fingerpointing. Look for data and evidence as we evaluate our options.

We’ve seen changes since last August, including some major challenges, and some improvements. Undoubtedly we will see more changes ahead, including both challenges and improvements. This is a complex, dynamic environment. On behalf of city government, I want to assure you all today that we will continue to engage with our partners locally, and nationally, to seek progress. We will try things together -- we must try things together -- and when they work we will do more of them. As I said the stakes are high, and our resolve must not falter.

I’d like to ask two of my colleagues in city government to give brief remarks from their perspectives on these issues, and then we’d be glad to take questions. First Beverly Calender-Anderson, Director of our Community and Family Resources Division, and the point person on many of these issues for our city. And then Mike Diekhoff, Chief of Police, whose department has been consistently on the frontline helping protect public safety with professionalism, transparency, and integrity.