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Pandemic relief money could boost services to homeless in Bloomington

City of Bloomington
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason.

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason said pandemic relief money could be used to help the homeless, after Prairie State Legal Services promoted the idea of a renter-landlord community navigator program a couple of months ago.

Gleason said Home Sweet Home Ministries is likely to apply for money to set up the program as part of the socio-economic aid section of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money the city will dole out.

"It is that central location, or that person that helps the homeless and those in need of housing navigate the system and the resources that are available," Gleason said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

Several city council members have said they like the idea as well, he said, noting the navigator is unlikely to eliminate the homeless problem.

"We can extend services all day long, and if they refuse, and they're not violating any crimes, there is little that we can do," said Gleason.

He said a number of cities offer programs to house the homeless before doing anything else as a way to stabilize them and help them be both more receptive to other services and better able to benefit from them. Fayetteville, Arkansas is one of those cities.

"They've got these pilot homes, smaller homes. I know that we've had some of these conversations in this community in the past. You know, we can stand up small, little communities or neighborhoods like this but again, you're right back at the very beginning where if someone does not want to live this way, there is nothing we can do about it," said Gleason.

Bloomington does not have as large a homeless population as some other cities of comparable size, said Gleason, but it does need to address the problem because of simple human caring and because of the perception of public safety.

"I believe that in the downtown specifically we do not have that great of a problem. But it truly takes one instance, where a homeless person does something when someone's trying to enjoy a meal outside with their family, and it blows up on social media," said Gleason.

He said the same thing is true of tent encampments scattered about town. If the property owners do nothing, and if the homeless living there commit no violations, city officials have no traction.

City finances and priorities

On another topic, Gleason said the city is in good financial shape after the first quarter of the fiscal year that began in May. He said staff continues to be optimistic about receipts in such areas as sales tax, and online retail tax reimbursements from the state.

“Overall, we're up, we're trending up," he said. "Some of the individual categories were down like the local motor fuel tax, not surprisingly. We trended downward during COVID and remain a little bit lower. But there are other areas we are trending higher. So overall, our revenues are up.”

Gleason said he’s very pleased with the results of a recent strategic visioning workshop held for council members, most of whom have less than a full term on the council. Among the themes to emerge is a desire by elected officials to be involved earlier in some of the larger infrastructure projects. Typically, that has happened during budget planning in January, but he said staff will loop council a month to a month and a half earlier. Other takeaways from the visioning session are not surprising.

“They want efficiencies in government, which is an area that we've been working toward since I came to the organization about four years ago. The biggie, the first step, truly is creating that culture within municipal government. And we've done this, but now we move toward measurable outcomes in the different areas in which we deliver service,” said Gleason.

Other themes include more transparency by staff, more in-depth financial briefings, and more emphasis on economic development. He said council members did not want to forget infill opportunities in existing neighborhoods.

He said the workshop will produce a document that will go to the council, perhaps in April.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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