Father, daughter deaths bolster argument for Niles homeless center

Published: Jan. 22, 2018 at 4:46 PM EST
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On January 3rd, an 81 year old Niles man and his adult daughter were found dead inside their cold home off Woodruff Street.

Only now are we finding out that-the week before- he sought help to get his furnace fixed.

“We were devastated here because we did what we could at that moment, and it wasn’t enough,” said Greg Nasstrom, Executive Director of the Ferry Street Resource Center.

During the last week in December, 81 year old Albert Bivins and his 55 year old mentally handicapped daughter Patricia went to the Ferry Street Resource Center seeking help for a furnace fix.

The center provided forms to fill out for a state program but that program requires the applicant to first get three repair estimates.

What the Ferry Street Resource Center could not offer is something the director has wanted to offer for about a year now. “If we had a homeless shelter we would have sent them there, absolutely. Along with three people a week that come in here that need one,” said Nasstrom. “They have to go to South Bend shelter for the homeless, they have to go to homeless shelters in Benton harbor, there isn’t a homeless shelter in Niles, as there should be in my view.”

The Ferry Street Center is only open on Mondays and Wednesdays so it seems likely that the Bivin’s visit would have come on the 27th of December. The Bivins bodies were discovered in the living room of their home on Woodruff Street on January 3rd. Information from AccuWeather shows that on six of the seven days that passed since the Bivins were last seen alive—featured temperatures that dropped below zero.

Nasstrom says the circumstances faced by the Bivins were not uncommon although rarely do they result in such tragedy.

“To have people die in their living room is uncommon, but to have people to struggle to get their utility bills paid happens every day here. For people to struggle to get their homes repaired and to keep a standard of living is very common, it’s just normally not, it normally does not go to that extreme where somebody could actually pass away in their home,” said Nasstrom.

The Ferry Street Resource Center is privately funded and runs on a budget of about $100,000 a year. The center specializes in helping pay utility bills and helping people get jobs: it wasn’t necessarily the wrong place for the Bivins to go, but it’s a place that realizes there is a hole in the social safety net.

“I have people that come in this office every week who I could put in a shelter that night if we had one, but we don’t have one,” said Nasstromm.

On Tuesday, the city administrator said in part: "It saddens all of us at the City of Niles to think that the BivIns Family may not have known that help was available to them. We live in a very caring community and there are many individuals and organizations who would have ensured the safety of this father and daughter."

They urge anyone who needs help to take advantage of resources like the Salvation Army, the South Bend Center for the Homeless or Hope Rescue Mission.

The city says they're still waiting on a toxicology report to confirm a cause of death.