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Fort Wayne has completed a $500,000 riverfront study and is proceeding with plans for riverfront development. This exciting project could have the “wow” factor that transforms Fort Wayne into an even greater city.
At the same time, the recent harsh winters have focused attention on the growing numbers of homeless. Various groups, as well as volunteers such as Sally Segerson, have worked for years to provide supplemental services to the homeless. Some have testified at City Council to emphasize the magnitude of the problem.
The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission has served the homeless since 1903. During a recent visit, I was impressed with their compassionate dedication to their work. The Mission provides emergency shelter and food, utilizing a comprehensive approach to help the individual: 1) understand and work on problems that have contributed to being homeless, 2) obtain training and job skills, and 3) re-integrate into society. I talked to several people for whom this approach has worked well. I also observed that the Mission needs at least twice the space and resources for the number of people it serves. Last year, it served 1,375 individuals at least once.
Sometimes two issues can converge in a way that benefits both. The Rescue Mission is located in the area targeted for riverfront development. If we could fast-track the purchase of their land, it would provide seed money to begin a capital campaign to build a larger facility. This would not be the whole answer but a major step forward. We also need to incorporate successful programs from cities such as Salt Lake City and New Orleans, which have made progress helping the homeless. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could develop the riverfront while also helping the less fortunate?
Fort Wayne will submit a proposal in July to the Regional Cities Initiative, a state program that would provide a large amount of money for regional city development if we are selected. It would be a force multiplier to the money we have for riverfront development. Fast-tracking a solution to our homeless problem would benefit the whole region.
One reason we are pursuing riverfront development is to improve Fort Wayne’s quality of place. We want to make our city better for all citizens and more attractive to young professionals who have the skills for the jobs of the future. We know that today’s young people are motivated by a desire for social justice. They want to improve their community, help the less fortunate and make the world a better place. If Fort Wayne could demonstrate a commitment to helping the homeless while developing the riverfront, I believe it would appeal to young professionals, attracting them to live and work in Fort Wayne.
There are many details that would have to fall into place for this concept to become reality. I plan to explore the idea and welcome your thoughts.
John Crawford, M.D., is a candidate for Fort Wayne City Council At-Large in the May 5 primary.
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