Dozens of residents forced to move from tent encampment site

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Dozens of residents living in a tent encampment in South Bend were forced to move Wednesday after reports that the property owner asked them to leave.

A sign posted in front of the encampment located at 520 S. Michigan Street read that any resident that did not leave by 4 p.m. would be removed by police and be charged for criminal tresspassing.

Jeremy Griffin, 65, lives in what he calls "tent city" and says when winter amnesty ended at the beginning of May, many residents, like him, didn't have a place to go.

Griffin says without tent city, he has nothing.

"I'm back to square one again, just walk the streets and sleep where I can. When I was younger, I can do it but i can't do it no more," Griffin says.

To make matters worse, the fear of spreading the coronavirus has caused homeless shelters to turn away many services they normally would offer to residents.

Araquel Bloss, an advocate for people who are homeless, says it is for that sole reason why she is going to continue help keep tent city alive because if she does not care for residents living there, no else will.

"I think the city of South Bend and the residents that are concerned about the houseless folks in tent city need to realize that when the winter weather amnesty closed during the pandemic, the normal services for houseless folks are not accepting new residents. They don't have any options currently," Bloss says.

No options but one. Tent city was moved from the original spot, which sat on private property, to a city owned empty lot across the street near the corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Street.

However, the transition to the new location has already caused an array of problems for area businesses including a couple of calls to the South Bend Police Department, but that is not all.

Lifelong South Bend resident Howell Atkins says if people living in the tents had any type of privacy before staying in between two buildings, they definitely don't have it now in a big, wide-open lot.

"You got them out in the open where everyone can see. That's going to start another problem," Atkins says.

City officials tend to agree...with it starting a problem. In fact, Caleb Bauer, the director of communications for the mayor's office, told 16 News Now in a statement Wednesday that the large tent encampments have caused nothing but trouble.

“The tent encampment has become a public health and safety issue. Calls for service to SBPD at the site have increased, with reports of fights, illegal drug use and distribution, and other issues. That doesn’t mean all the unsheltered individuals at the site are conducting unlawful activity, but large encampments foster an environment that compounds issues. The City can’t encourage large encampments, including on City-owned property."

Bauer says individuals living at the tent encampent site have been given at least 48 hours to leave.