New partnership aims to tackle evictions throughout Fort Wayne

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Just Neighbors, a non-profit that serves families facing homelessness in Fort Wayne, may save Christmas for families facing eviction this year.

Joshua Gale, the executive director of Just Neighbors, says eviction cases filed in November and December of this year are down 86% from the same time period in 2019.

The decrease in evictions can be attributed to a partnership between the city, Just Neighbors, and non-profit law firm Indiana Legal Services. Just Neighbors services families in crisis, often with shelter and meals.

“We’ve worked with hundreds with the partnership since June,” Gale said, “and every one of those cases has been dismissed.”

Fort Wayne has been 13th in the nation for evictions for the last decade, Gale said. South Bend is eighth and Indianapolis, 14th.

The three agencies took the lead in reducing the state’s troubling statistics in evictions after the Indiana Supreme Court created a new court designation “EV” , for eviction cases that goes small claims divisions.

The court also sanctioned an eviction diversion program, Gale said.

“The reason why Fort Wayne was 13th in the nation for evicting was because all policy is directed toward the landlord and away from the poor. So much of what happens, happens in the dark with people who don’t understand their own rights,” Gale said.

With the landlord and a lawyer “pushing a piece of paper in front of people, they sign it,” Gale explained.

“Now we are seated in the same area where those negotiations are happening,” Gale added.

Data from Allen County courts obtained by WANE 15 today indicates that 5,037 eviction cases were filed in 2019 compared to 2,668 in 2020. This year, 2.706 eviction cases were filed, 14 in civil docket and the rest in small claims.

Of those cases this year, only 835 are pending. The rest have been decided.

Since the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance program was instituted earlier this year, the city has aided more than 3,200 households, according to a release from Angelica Robinson Pickens, public information officer. The city received $11.9 million. More than $4.4 million went to rental arrearages and about $1.2 million in utility assistance.

The Allen County Sheriff will not lock out  any tenants scheduled to be evicted from their homes from Dec. 10 through Jan. 1 because of the holidays, the city told Wane-TV Wednesday.

Applications for  at-risk tenants or tenants currently in the eviction process  are still being processed if the tenants applied before the Dec. 12 cutoff, Bernie Becker, ERAP program manager, said in an email.

But there is hope for those who missed the deadline, too.

“If tenants missed that deadline, but are being evicted currently, our eviction intervention team is still able to assist them,” Becker said.

Gale wants people facing eviction to contact his agency, the Eviction Intervention Program at 260-918-6662.

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