The beating of a 75-year-old staff member and threats made to other workers have led the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to take steps to ensure the safety of its workers and the homeless people they serve.
The mission has hired three additional people to bolster the size of the staff, help monitor homeless people when they come in, and provide clients with case management and referral to other agencies offering services the person needs, said the Rev. Donovan Coley, mission senior pastor and CEO.
After a call for help from the mission, 301 W. Superior St., Fort Wayne Police have increased bicycle patrols in the area around the mission, Coley said. In addition, the mission is working to increase and improve security systems and cameras at that location, Coley said.
They hope to raise $50,000 at the mission's 110th anniversary Celebration Banquet on Oct. 17 to help pay for the extra staff and security upgrades, he said.
“We want our place to be as safe as they want their neighborhoods to be,” Coley said of other Fort Wayne residents.
The Rescue Mission began noticing an increase in violence against homeless people about six or seven months ago, said Coley, who has been CEO for six years. He attributes most of the violence to youth gangs.
Mission staff members have heard that gang members have come from as far away as Elkhart to do a “hit,” or beating, on a homeless person as part of initiation into a gang, he said.
The 75-year-old male staffer was riding his bike to work when he was jumped and beaten near Freimann Square, which is at Clinton and Main streets, Coley said. The man, who since has recovered, recognized one or two of his attackers as people who had visited the Rescue Mission.
The mission later barred two men and one woman from coming back because of their reported involvement in the attack, Coley said.
Men who have been kicked out of the program have returned to threaten staff members or have left threatening phone messages for staff, he said.
In what Coley describes as a “near miss,” a man carrying a gun entered through an unlocked door and walked past staff to try to threaten a homeless man who was at the mission. Staff members were able to scare away the assailant and call police, who apprehended the man, he said.
The mission since has instituted a policy barring community dining guests from wearing gang-related clothing or headgear, Coley said. Police presence also has been increased at meals.
There have been no problems at the Rescue Mission's Charis House, 431 Fairmount Place, which provides housing for homeless women and their children, he said.
But the mission has received reports of violence against or involving homeless people in the Wells Street corridor area north of the St. Marys River and in the tiny park at Wayne and Webster streets, across from the downtown Allen County Public Library.
“We have had problems with some of the groups that attend the park,” said John Hidy, security services manager for the Allen County Public Library. But Hidy doesn't know if any of the people congregating there are part of a true gang or group.
Library security staff members have observed people drinking alcoholic beverages and using drugs in the park, he said. The library also has had some problems with vandalism in its plaza in front of the building's main entrance.
The staff checks security camera footage and notifies police if they can identify a suspect, he said.
If people cause a problem inside the library, they are given a verbal warning, he said. If they fail to comply with the library's code of conduct, they can be barred from entering for from one day to a year.
Many of the violence reports involve people in the 18-25 age group, Coley said.
The number of people in that age group the mission serves increased 7 percent in the past fiscal year, which ended June 30, he said.
He attributes the jump to youth aging out of foster care, more teens dropping out of high school, the lack of jobs available and young people leaving Indiana Department of Correction with no family or support system to which they can return.