High Profile Homeless Shelter Deals With Gang Violence Headaches

By Jeff Neumeyer

October 3, 2013 Updated Oct 3, 2013 at 5:30 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) --- Fort Wayne Rescue Mission officials are beefing up security in the face of reported gang violence targeting the organization.

According to the director of the mission, a couple of people have gotten hurt already.

It's a story that leaves you wondering if there is anyplace where violence is off limits.

Is the mission a safe haven for the homeless, or a new magnet for gang problems?

The CEO of the agency on Superior Street downtown says in the past six months, members of a gang have threatened the facility's staff, and physically attacked a mission resident in a nearby city park.

In addition, a 75-year old man riding his bicycle to work at the mission was recently attacked and beaten.

Reverend Donovan Coley says it’s because of his affiliation with the organization.

" We have been in conversation with the police department and what we're being told is that this is a part of a gang initiation," says Reverend Coley.

Butch Strong, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, is appalled that he and his colleagues living in the mission are now targets of violence.

" The guys that come down here are downtrodden and broken, and they come down here for a meal and to get a little bit of help. They're just easy prey for these people," Strong said.

Because of the violence problems, leaders of the Rescue Mission are working on security system improvements to boost safety for residents, staff and volunteers.

The mission's Board of Trustees has authorized purchase of new security cameras, lighting and alarm systems.

In addition, three new staff members have been hired.

A zero tolerance policy is also now in effect, giving gang members the cold shoulder.

" The moment there are threats or intimidation, we are asking you to leave the facilities. If you're coming in with any kind of a gang looking apparel, we're going to ask you to leave as well," Reverend Coley said.

It might seem obvious that the mission would tell folks tied to gangs that they couldn’t stay on the premises.

But keep in mind, the mission is generally committed to welcoming one and all.

That approach can’t be followed, Coley maintains, when violence issues are involved.

Reverend Coley says a fund raising effort will be launched to pay for the new security system features.

He says Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company in Fort Wayne is willing to match donations up to a set amount, to help with equipment enhancements.

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