Dowagiac forms committee to address homelessness

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac city leaders have come together to find a way to provide for their most vulnerable residents.

A committee has been formed in Dowagiac to address the issue of homelessness. The group met for the first time earlier this month to discuss shelter, food, health care, funding, transportation, supervision and more for the homeless within the city limits.

The committee currently consists of City Manager Kevin Anderson, Mayor Don Lyons, City Council member Patrick Bakeman, Ester Stanley of the Stepping Stone, Jeff Neumann of Action Ministries and Shannon Lyons.

Kevin Anderson

“This is an informal group,” Anderson said. “This is us saying, ‘how can we find a place in the system by which these folks can have warm, dry shelter during difficult times and making sure there is some kind of warm food in their bellies?’”

Though the committee to address homelessness is still in the formative stages, one of the primary goals of the group will be to find a way to provide shelter to those individuals during inclement and cold weather, according to Anderson.  He said the group is looking at several ways to ensure that from working with local churches that might be able to open their doors to even inquiring about building a new structure entirely.

“This is the time of year when it is needed most,” he said. “We are trying move very quickly and are making every effort we can to give warm, dry places for people to stay.”

No city money is currently budgeted to be used on the project. Instead, the committee is looking to see if the project can be undertaken through philanthropic efforts, Anderson said.

City leaders estimate that there are between one and five homeless individuals residing within the city limits. Members of the committee said the issue of homelessness in Dowagiac is reflective of a larger homelessness problem affecting the entire country.

“This is an important issue anywhere,” Anderson said. “There are individuals who face circumstances that are difficult to overcome. We certainly don’t want to see anyone impacted by hypothermia if it can be avoided.”

“For some cities, it is like blight,” added Jeff Neumann, president of ACTION Ministries and fellow committee member. “The reason to solve this is for [the homeless’] benefit.”

At the moment, the committee is seeking more people and ideas to be added to the project, which will enable the committee to address the complex issue of homelessness within the city better, Neumann said.

“The goal now is to harness the interest and find a point person to take the helm and get volunteers in place,” he said. “When that happens, we will be ready to go. But it is hard to come up with a perfect solution and time is running out.”

Until then, both Neumann and Anderson said they believe moving forward with the committee is the right thing to do to make Dowagiac a place that takes care of its most vulnerable residents.

“The mayor and the city manager are interested in people and are interested in doing this right,” Neumann said. “We are not interested in throwing out a half-thought-out idea that will fail quickly. … We want to take care of [the homeless]. They are really unable to solve the problem themselves.”

“This is just the right thing to do,” Anderson added. “Even if the numbers are small, if there is a severe human need out there, it’s just part of being in a community that you help out those with the greatest needs.”

Anderson said the committee plans to meet semi-regularly. Community members looking to get involved with the committee can contact Neumann at actiondowgagiac@gmail.com or (269) 782-0000.

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