BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – By the end of next year, Wheeler Mission’s Bloomington facility will have more space for emergency shelter and programs designed to help those experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
Over the last year-and-a-half, Wheeler Mission has purchased two buildings adjacent to its original facility in the 200 block of Westplex Avenue, which is just off 3rd Street on Bloomington’s west side. Renovations over the next year will provide more space by utilizing all three buildings for different purposes.
The expansion effort is getting funding help from a $550,000 federal grant.
“One of the things this will provide for us is additional classroom space for those job readiness classes, those life skills classes that we offer,” said Director, Dana Jones. “To treat them with dignity and currently the space we’re in is so tight.”
Currently, the 84-bed facility has a public kitchen and can provide emergency shelter to up to 102 individuals who need to get out of the weather conditions. However, that emergency shelter space is less than what it was before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had the capacity of 130 here, pre-Covid,” Jones said. “After we get the new renovation, we’ll be able to go back to that capacity and still have social distancing.”
While renovation and expansion plans are still taking shape, Jones is also meeting with nearby business owners who have concerns about the expansion attracting more people with behavioral issues. Jones says he has heard complaints from some business owners about people from the shelter causing problems on their properties.
“The issue is, we’re helping people,” Jones said. “And when you help people, it just sometimes gets messy.”
Jaewon Jung, who works at the nearby Hoosier Seoulmate Korean Restaurant, says he often sees the same three or four people from the shelter loitering in his business’ parking lot, and sometimes looking into car windows. Last week, he said a woman came into the restaurant after closing time and asked to use the restroom.
“She came up to the counter, and then she was looking at my tip jar and she was asking if she could have the money to buy cigarettes,” Jung said. “I kept telling her no. I was trying to be nice, but she kept asking and asking, so I eventually asked her to leave.”
People at several other nearby businesses declined to comment on the matter. An employee at one business who did not want to be identified said he appreciated recent efforts by Jones and the city of Bloomington to address concerns. Those efforts included the installation of fencing between the business and a homeless camp next to the Wheeler Mission facility.
Jones said nearby businesses are now being given a 24-hour number to contact the Wheeler Mission facility if any more issues arise. If a business calls the number, somebody from the shelter will go out to meet with the person causing the issue and help address it.
Anyone breaking the law will be handled by Bloomington police, Jones said.
“But it’s a small portion of people that we have that causes some issues,” Jones said. “And so by meeting with those property owners, they’re able to give us the feedback to help us to create a plan that will address that particular group of people.”