Challenge to YMCA, mayor 

The integrity,

The integrity, humanity and leadership of the Indianapolis YMCA and Mayor Peterson are being tested by deliberations over the fate of the Fall Creek Y"s 96-bed dormitory. In March, the Y closed the dormitory, which had been housing low-income people for nearly six decades. Indianapolis desperately needs that dormitory. The mayor"s "Blueprint to End Homelessness" identifies a shortfall of some 12,500 rental units for low-income residents and calls for adding 1,700 units for very low-income people during the next five years. Saving existing units is infinitely easier and less expensive than creating new units. A city that needs to add 1,700 units cannot afford to lose 96. Carl Drummer, Center Township trustee, describes the dormitory as a crucial resource. The people whom he referred to the dormitory were men who were "getting back into the workforce," he says. For these men, who needed "the extra hand up," the missions are not appropriate places to stay, he says, because those who are working may be unable to enter the missions at prescribed times, thus losing the opportunity to have a bed for the night. The dormitory, Drummer explains, plays a "major role" in helping these workers achieve self-sufficiency. Ellen Annala, president of the United Way of Central Indiana, says that it is "critically important to the community that we re-open" the dormitory. The Rev. John Hay Jr., executive director of Horizon House, communicated to Peterson the Horizon House board of directors" concern that the 96 beds be preserved. Referring to the Blueprint"s call for adding more housing facilities for low-income people, Hay stressed that it was essential "to preserve and support low-income housing that has been located at the YMCA for a generation." Doug Walker, immediate past chair of the board of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, offered two explanations for the closure of the dormitory: the cost of repairs and the view that operating the residence was not within the "core competencies" of the Y. There"s no doubt that repairs are needed; the cost of the work has been estimated at about $1 million. But United Way and local foundations have indicated that they are willing to provide the money to make the repairs. It"s not easy to understand why or how operating the dormitory became inconsistent with the Y"s mission, or "core competencies." The Y"s mission is described as service to families, children and the community. Service to the community certainly includes providing housing that the mayor, the township trustee and others have identified as urgently needed. It is puzzling that an organization that is concerned about serving the community would close a 96-bed resource in a city that has a 12,500 unit deficit in its housing for low-income residents. Walker said that fewer than 100 of 2,200 Y"s - and none in Indiana - provide residential facilities. But in other cities that, like Indianapolis, have a significant shortfall in low-income housing, Y"s have been important contributors toward meeting that need. Y"s in Columbus, Ohio, Troy, N.Y., and Seattle, among many others, provide residential services. Y"s in Massachusetts are the largest operators of Single Room Occupancy units in that state. If the Y was determined to focus more narrowly on families and children, it could open the dormitory to Indianapolis" many homeless young people - runaways, "throwaways" and those who "age out" of foster care. The Y could provide great service to them and to the community by housing homeless youth in the dormitory and extending the Y"s educational and other programs to those youngsters. The Y"s in many other communities provide such services. The YMCA of San Diego County, for example, provides temporary shelter and counseling for runaway, homeless and troubled youth, ages 12-17. The YMCA in Sarasota, Fla., offers residential programs, education and counseling for children and youth aged 10-21. If the Y doesn"t want to operate the dormitory, it need not. Partners in Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit that provides supportive housing for low-income people at the justly-celebrated Blue Triangle residence, is ready, willing and able to manage the dormitory. Frank Hagaman, president of Partners in Housing, says, "We have an interest, and we can do it." Community leaders have expressed their determination to save the dormitory. Douglas Walker says that the Y "will go to any table to listen to any proposal." United Way, local foundations, Partners in Housing and the mayor"s staff have been engaged in discussions with the Y, seeking to assure that the dormitory units will be returned to use for low-income people. Jane A. Henegar, deputy mayor for public policy, says that there have been "positive and encouraging conversations" among all the "partners," and that she is "optimistic" that the dormitory will be preserved for use by low-income people. Ellen Annala says that she sees movement toward an agreement that will preserve the dormitory as housing for needy people in the city. If the Y will not voluntarily preserve the dormitory, Peterson can and should use the power of eminent domain to take the dormitory and have it operated by another nonprofit. There is absolutely no question about either his authority to do so or the need for him to exercise that authority in this situation. If, however, the optimism expressed by Henegar and Annala proves warranted, and the Y voluntarily returns the dormitory to use as housing for low-income people, everyone will be a winner. The city will have preserved essential housing units, and the Y will have secured the respect of the community by doing what the mayor and others have identified as necessary. Florence Roisman is a professor of law and Paul Beam Fellow at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis, where she teaches courses in property and in housing and development law. She is also on the board of directors of Horizon House.

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