Chesterton Tribune



Caring Place turns to County for funding; Council pushes for action

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Several Porter County Council members Tuesday urged their colleagues in County Government to expedite the implementation of a process to give interest funds, made off the sale proceeds of the county-owned Porter Memorial Hospital, to non-profits who provide social services.

The call to action came up during a nearly hour-and-a-half discussion during the Council’s meeting at the County Administration Building with supporters of The Caring Place packing the room to ask the Council if it would grant the organization over $1 million towards building a new shelter.

The Caring Place makes a case

The Caring Place, located in Valparaiso, provides shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children who have been victims of domestic or sexual abuse.

Executive Director for The Caring Place Mary Beth Schultz said the current shelter building is over 100 years old and is roughly 3,000 sq. ft. She noted the building is facing structural problems due to age such as a burst pipes, a collapsed ceiling and termite damage.

Schultz said the Violence Against Women Act has required Shelters to “be more diligent” on safety and accessibility and has impacted the need to upgrade to a larger facility.

About a year ago, the leaders started a capital campaign to raise funds for a new shelter location which would cost roughly $2.8 million, Schultz said, and has brought in nearly $1 million so far.

Construction could begin moving once 80 percent of the cost is reached, she said. She hopes it can start by August and the organization is searching for other opportunities to raise money.

“We know if we don’t get the shelter built quickly, we realize something terrible could happen. We could close,” she said, mentioning that The Caring Place has been in operation since 1978. “We help victims of violence. They come to the Shelter in need of a quiet place. They need to heal. They need to have access to our services. We also help those who have problems with addictions and some with mental health issues as well. We serve a trifecta of people in our community that need our help.”

Among those in the crowd, Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds corroborated with Schultz that domestic violence is the biggest reported problem in Porter County after drug addiction.

“This is a public safety and a law enforcement issue, but I agree it is a quality of life issue. It’s not just always wife versus husband. It’s kids versus kids, and it’s getting more violent,” said Reynolds.

As elected officials, Reynolds told the Council they “have to deal with what is right.”

“This is a no-brainer. We have to stand up,” he said.

There are about 25 women and children at The Caring Place currently and the new shelter could welcome about 45, Schultz said. Eighty percent of the residents are from Porter County while others come from Lake and Starke counties.

Foundation to help?

Council President Mike Jessen, R-4th, had addressed the crowd earlier making it clear that he and other Council members appreciate the service The Caring Place provides, but it would be “premature” to consider the request while there is no mechanism for the Council to appropriate the funds.

“It wouldn’t be prudent for us as a Council to process a $1.6 million request at this time,” said Jessen, noting that the County is in the middle of assessing capital needs like repairing the North County Complex in Portage and switching the 911 Center to a new radio system.

Recently, Jessen formed a steering committee made up of himself, Council Vice-President Dan Whitten, D-at large, Council member Jeff Larson, R-at large and Board of Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center, to develop ideas of how to use the interest money from the sale proceeds of Porter Memorial Hospital investments into the Porter County Government Charitable Foundation. A process to vet requests for special needs is not yet established, Jessen said.

The hospital investment generated $6.3 million in interest last year after the Foundation was formed in early 2016, according to Whitten. That is up from the $1.7 million in interest made the year before that.

Whitten, who had sought support from his peers last year to start a grant application process for non-profit groups, said he believes the Council has an obligation to improve the quality of life in the county and that no other county in the state has the opportunity that Porter County does.

“I think we ought to get this process done now. Now! Now!” Whitten said. “I heard the Commissioners say we’re going to get this done in 2018. That’s not concise enough.”

He asked if a percentage of Foundation money should be reserved for non-profit requests or set a figure, although it is not guaranteed how much interest is earned each year.

Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, said The Caring Place is “such a needed service.” Graham said she would vote yes on the request when it is made possible, as did Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd.

“I wish tonight I could write you a check,” Conover told Schultz. “I’d like to see us help our non-profits. They go above and beyond and I am glad you’re here.”

Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said the situation affects him emotionally as he knows someone whose relative was a victim of domestic violence. “It’s not something we can bury our head on,” he said.

Rivas said the County can help with the funds it has and it’s not something to wait on, which prompted applause from the supporters. “I don’t know what way that is but to say come back when our paperwork is in order is unacceptable.”

Council member Andy Bozak, R-1st, asked if the steering committee was on hold until the Commissioners present their capital projects plan next month. Jessen replied it is not and it is actively working with the Porter County Community Foundation in getting the structure ready to make grants, but added that is a very involved process in coming up with guidelines.

Jessen admitted it is “shameful” that a process to give money to community needs is not in place and that the reason he formed the steering committee was to get moving.

“It should have been done by now. I absolutely agree,” Jessen said. There is an opportunity now “to try and expedite the things” for the Foundation, he said.

Larson said he suspects politics are a part of why the process has been delayed.

A priority

Schultz said she realizes the County does have its financial challenges with its sets of needs and wants, but argued the County should give her organization consideration because the police have difficulty finding places for those in domestic violence situations.

“I think The Caring Place should be moved up on your priority list, because I think we are a priority,” she told the Council.

Bozak agreed. “I hope we can push this along and we can get it done faster than we originally thought.”

This is the first time that The Caring Place has asked the County to help, Schultz said, and there have been cutbacks but never to services.

The County does give support each year to non-profit organizations like Opportunity Enterprises, Porter County Council on Aging and Porter-Starke Services.



Posted 5/17/2017





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