City: Homelessness Must Be Eradicated
Two Battle Creek city commissioners tell The Richard Piet Show homelessness must be eradicated in the city, and there is no concerted effort on the part of the city they know of to conceal it.
Commissioner and former mayor Mark Behnke and Commissioner Andy Helmboldt joined Battle Creek Community Development Manager Chris Lussier to discuss various assertions made during Monday's program on WBCK. During that program, Pastor Bill Stein of God's Kitchen in Battle Creek alleged the city and Battle Creek Unlimited have told him his soup kitchen - and, by extension, the homeless - are not welcome in downtown Battle Creek because it interferes with economic development efforts there. Elaine Hunsicker, executive director of The Haven of Rest shelter in Battle Creek, agreed with Stein that in the past, there was at least the perception of such an effort.
"I don't know of any effort to attempt to do anything with his soup kitchen," Helmboldt said.
Behnke said the issue is one the city is very familiar with, and has embarked on concerted efforts to assist homeless residents to get back on their feet.
"We take this very serious," Behnke said. "We need to work as a community, and I believe that we are - but we need to do more."
Lussier addressed another claim made by Stein on WBCK - and at a forum about the issue Tuesday night in Battle Creek - that a number of blighted properties exist in the city, and could be converted for use to house the homeless.
Overall, Lussier said, some properties are not inhabitable and others have been put back into use, though the city itself owns very few properties directly and doesn't have the capacity to turn them into homeless shelters.
"Since 2008, 15% [of vacant homes] have been demolished," Lussier said. "25% percent only stayed vacant for a short time and did get put back into productive use...within six months."
Lussier said 34% of vacant properties were vacant longer - more than eight months - which subjected them to a process by which the city must determine if they are safe and what needs to be done to make them inhabitable.
"I think it is worth discussing how to put vacant properties back to good use," Lussier said.
The trio also pointed out that the issues related to homelessness generally have to be addressed before a person can shoulder the responsibility of rent or a mortgage, were the vacant homes in question to become available as inhabitable space.
When asked if homelessness is able to be eradicated or if it is just a fact of life in a modern city, Behnke said "I think we need to eradicate it completely. The Haven of Rest has worked very hard in our community...[but] we need to do more. If Rev. Stein is waking us up and explaining that we need to step up and do more, let's do it," he said.
Hear the entire interview by clicking the player below.