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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Local low-barrier homeless shelter receives funding

Motels4Now, a low-barrier housing program created in 2020, received $1.5 million from the city of South Bend after months of uncertainty regarding funding.

The city awarded $2.5 million from the American Rescue Plan to Motels4Now and other organizations.

Jenny Wiertel, a Notre Dame master of divinity student and volunteer at Motels4Now, wrote about the importance of the program in an opinion piece for the South Bend Tribune.

“The streets offer no easy access to basic needs, let alone critical mental health and addiction treatment,” Wiertel wrote. “No one can start to heal when they are fighting to survive.”

Motels4Now is important to the South Bend community as the only low-barrier shelter, Wiertel said to The Observer.

Jon Schommer, the director of Our Lady of the Road, said Motels4Now is the first shelter of its kind in northern Indiana.

“Motels4Now is the first low-barrier, transitional housing program in northern Indiana,” Schommer said. “The idea is that housing is a basic need, just like food and water is.” 

Schommer said research around homelessness has shown that having low-barrier housing options allows people to have the bandwidth to focus on other important needs.

Having shelter options for everyone is important, Wiertel added.

Motels4Now houses the chronically homeless of South Bend.
Motels4Now provides a home for the unhoused in South Bend.

 “I think it's really important that we have shelter options for everyone across the board,” Wiertel said. “There's also addiction services and mental health treatment available right on site at the motel, which is super important.” 

Motels4Now is a program of Our Lady of the Road that began in 2020 when weather amnesty in South Bend ended. Weather amnesty provided shelter for homeless people in South Bend during winter months.

Schommer said that after weather amnesty ended, everyone at South Bend's Salvation Army Building didn’t have a place to stay. These unhoused people ended up staying in a tent encampment less than a block away from the Catholic Worker houses.

“There were around 100 people who were staying there, there were two babies who were born living in a tent encampment,” Schommer said. “Because everything was closed due to COVID, people didn't have access to bathrooms or basic sanitation.”

The police evicted people from spots and told to find another, Schommer added. The shelters during 2020 were all full and at lower capacity than normal due to social distancing requirements.

Motels4Now was started when advocates began discussing what could be done to address the homeless situation in South Bend. It is currently located at a Knights Inn on Lincoln Way, with plans to construct a permanent facility.

The funding for Motels4Now was a cause of uncertainty for months. In February, St. Joseph County’s executive body vetoed a $1.65 million grant that would have renewed the program for another year.

Notre Dame junior Elijah Mustillo and senior Jen Eburuoh attended a St. Joseph County Council meeting to advocate for the shelter. Mustillo and Eburuoh are volunteers at Our Lady of the Road. 

Eburuoh said attending the meeting helped her understand the role of the county council.

“It helped me really see in a broad way and understand the role of the council in deciding these great things that affect so many people's lives,” Eburuoh said. “It was interesting to see the four or six people that are elected and hear their concerns and the questions they had regarding the program.” 

Mustillo said that at the council meeting, people spoke about renewing funding for Motels4Now.

“We had a bunch of people speak while the floor was open to everybody, speak on why the county should renew funding for the next couple years," Mustillo said.

Mustillo added that attendees of the meeting wore yellow shirts to showcase their support for Motels4Now. Going to the meeting didn’t lead to funding for Motels4Now from the county, but Mustillo said the meeting was very heartwarming.

Eburuoh said Our Lady of the Road and Motels4Now provide stability.

"People just need stability and once they have that stability, they can transition from temporary solutions to more permanent solutions," she said.