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.
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
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.
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
“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.
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?
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.
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
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
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
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.”
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
“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.
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
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.