VALPARAISO — A local center for homeless men, which has spent the last couple of months providing overnight accommodations to clients left without any alternatives during the COVID-19 lockdown, is left scrambling after its unauthorized accommodations came to the attention of city officials this week.
Jim Drader, chief executive officer with the New Creation Resale Shop and Men's Center at 2102 Calumet Ave., said he does not fault the city for ordering the center to stop the overnight stays.
The center is not zoned for that type of use, he said.
But, "under the circumstances, I really didn't have much of a choice," Drader said.
Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy said Thursday afternoon that while the city supports the efforts of New Creation and has no doubts its intentions were good, it "cannot support housing anyone in an unsafe manner and in violation of state and local regulations."
"Among various city concerns is that our fire department was unaware that people were staying in the building," he said.
"Had New Creation initially approached the city, we would have taken steps to assist," Murphy said, adding the city is still willing to help.
The center typically relies on the generosity of 14 churches around Porter County, each of which provides up to 30 nights of emergency accommodations for the homeless men on a rotating basis, Drader said.
"Every night they go to a different church," he said.
Yet when then COVID-19 pandemic struck and churches began closing their doors per the order of the state, the homeless men were left with nowhere to stay overnight, he said. With the resale shop also ordered closed, the decision was made to allow the men to say at the center overnight.
"This lasted a lot longer than we anticipated," Drader said.
The center started out in March housing 16 or 17 men, but that number is now down to seven with the balance moving on to other arrangements, he said. No new clients were taken in over the last couple of months out of fear of the coronavirus.
"I'm having to scramble for a solution," he said.
With churches now allowed to reopen, Drader said he is turning to them for help.
He is also exploring the option of having the men stay at a local hotel as part of an effort that kicked off Thursday of providing an isolation shelter for homeless people potentially exposed to COVID-19.
The program provides homeless individuals the opportunity to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days with all their needs provided, said Lisa Franko, director of development at Housing Opportunities, which is overseeing the effort with the help of other agencies.
Participants are not supposed to leave during the quarantine and if they do, they are not allowed back, she said.
Drader said the men from his program, who presumably have not been knowingly exposed to COVID-19, would just stay the night at the hotel.