Porter County not ready to commit to funds for The Caring Place

Space at The Caring Place facility is tight. Six women must share a room, sleeping in bunk beds.

Joyce Russell, The Times

VALPARAISO — A $1.6 million financing request from The Caring Place wasn't on the Porter County Council agenda.

But discussion, sometimes passionate and most times heatedly in favor of the shelter for victims of domestic violence, dominated Tuesday's meeting for more than an hour.

County Council President Mike Jessen, R-4th, who had earlier said the request wouldn't be on the agenda, allowed The Caring Place Executive Director Mary Beth Schultz to make a presentation and for others to provide input.

"My sense is that many are here tonight in support of The Caring Place. It's not specifically on the agenda, but we'd like to add it ... I think the request is premature since no funding mechanism is in place," Jessen said.

No action was taken by the County Council, and at the end of the session Jessen said the financing request should come before the 10-member joint County Council/county commissioner foundation, which next meets at 4:30 p.m. June 27.

Schultz said The Caring Place, founded in 1978, has been moved three times, including 25 years ago to the 100-year-old house where it's now located.

That 100-year-old house doesn't meet current space needs, and the infrastructure has taken a heavy toll with recent plumbing and electrical problems, which have cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Two years ago the organization started looking for a new place to move to, and a year ago it started a capital funds campaign, Schultz said.

The organization, which offers services including advocacy, crisis counseling, sexual assault and domestic violence support and community awareness programs, has outgrown its home and officials are in the middle of a $2.8 million fundraising campaign to construct a new, 8,000-square-foot facility which will house 45 people and bring all of its services under one roof.

So far, Schultz said, the "Under One Roof" campaign has raised some $750,000 and another $250,000 in pledges, but is approaching a deadline for the contractor to begin construction on the new facility.

The group has until August to raise 80 percent of the $2.8 million, in cash, to begin construction.

"It's not a want; it's a need," Schultz said.

Schultz said the biggest problem in Porter County is drugs, but the No. 2 problem is domestic violence.

"The Caring Place takes care of the most vulnerable of our citizens," Schultz said.

Debbi Reynolds, director of client services for The Caring Place, said the new facility will enable them to provide more and better services to more people.

Reynolds cited the recent addition to the home of a badly bruised and beaten woman who came to the shelter with her three-month-old baby.

The woman's husband had told her he would kill both her and the baby if she left him.

"These are terrible situations and terribly violent. If The Caring Place isn't there what number will the victims call when they need a place to go?" Reynolds said.

Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds agreed that the county's No. 2 problem is domestic violence.

"This is about public safety, law enforcement and quality of life ... We have a problem; we have a problem in this county," Reynolds said.

Some of the County Council members spoke passionately in favor of providing the money to The Caring Place including County Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at-large, who said the money is in place from the hospital proceeds and there is $6.3 million in earnings from the initial investment.

"We're in really good shape," Whitten said.

Whitten urged officials to get the process done now.

"We have people in this county suffering. I want to be that last refuge to that family. We have families in this county suffering. We have the potential to make a difference," Whitten said.

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