Ministers want money to keep mentally ill out of jail
By Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne)
Oct. 18, 2019
First, they prayed outside Citizens Square. Then the group of about eight people, four of them pastors, went inside to make their case to those who set Allen County’s budget.
Members of the Fort Wayne chapter of Faith in Indiana sought less incarceration and more funding for treatment for people with mental illness and addiction who face jail.
But the group, which had invited county Sheriff David Gladieux and Council President Tom Harris to a community meeting last month to lay out their agenda, again got no promises for money – although the council is in the midst of 2020 budget deliberations.
After group member Ken Christmon, pastor of Turner Chapel AME Church in Fort Wayne, asked the council to live up to a commitment of allotting $200,000 to the cause, Harris reframed the issue.
“I want to make sure you’re clear that I did not commit any funds, nor did I make a promise at that meeting,” he said, referring to his previous appearance before the group.
“I did state we would support an initiative in the future,” Harris said.
That would mean allocations would likely need to be in an upcoming year’s budget.
The group seeks a diversion program that would include a social worker on certain police calls. The worker would assist in getting a mentally ill or addicted person to treatment and stay out of jail.
The group also wants a treatment facility started and funded.
“It’s pretty clear if you jail a mentally ill person or an autistic kid or young adult, you are doing them harm,” said group member Steve Cain, a retired United Methodist minister who wore clerical robes to the meeting.
“We really believe that it’s time for Fort Wayne to have a pre-arrest strategy,” he said.
In other business, the council heard a presentation by Kent Castleman and Kristi Sturtz, representing the New Allen Alliance.
They said they’d like the council to consider funding to start a commercial facade program for communities outside Fort Wayne.
Castleman said the idea was brought up last year but was not funded. This year, the group would like an appropriation of at least $100,000 for a pilot program, he told The Journal Gazette after the meeting.
Later in the meeting, the council did not give an allocation but created a working committee of Sharon Tucker, Joel Benz and Kyle Curley to work on the feasibility of a program with the Department of Planning Services.
The program could use Fort Wayne’s facade grant program as a guide, council members said, but it remained unclear whether the proposal would be ready for the initial approval of next year’s budget.
However, the working group agreed to meet by the end of the year.