Walking through many different neighborhoods is part of running for office. Some neighborhoods get more traffic than others. This isn’t right, but it happens. You see that candidates tend to focus on the voters most likely to support their campaign, and those most likely to cut a check.
I’m trying to be different. I hate asking for money anyway, especially in the primary, spending a lot of other people’s money just doesn’t make much sense to me. So I try to focus on the voters, the people that actually determine elections. I have people that give me advice on where to go and who to talk to, but ultimately the decision on where to go falls to me. My wife, Elizabeth, is one of those who says “Hey, you should go here,” so when she told me “You’re going to this place tomorrow” I said sure.
The place she was referring to is a mobile home park in Portage. She had spoken to one of the residents there and they said that no one running for office had visited there in the 10 years that they had lived there. They simply wanted to know that they would be listened to, as well. It’s easy to forget about Americans that don’t create a lot of noise online or march through the streets with signs and pink caps.
When I went to the park, I was expecting to knock on some doors, meet some hard-working people, and pass out some literature. I was wholly unprepared for what I saw.
The conditions that these people are being forced to live in are absolutely unacceptable. The story unfolded as the residents walked me around the park. This isn’t new. This has been going on for months, and in some cases, many many years.
The park is one of many that dot the landscape around Lake, Porter, and La Porte counties, and provides more affordable housing than many other alternatives. Usually, mobile home communities are tight-knit groups of families that look out for one another and share both good times and bad. This park is no different in that regard. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and as I walked through the streets, waves and smiles were abundant.
Here’s where the story changes, however. Several months ago, a new owner purchased the park, according to the residents, and since then, especially, things went quickly downhill. There are stories surrounding the sale and why it happened. Some rumors about the city of Portage potentially buying the park, but not doing so because they didn’t want to pay the relocation costs for the residents. We talk more on that later.
Shortly after the alleged sale of the park, old trailers started getting torn down. Unfortunately, this wasn’t done properly, and piles of debris were left sitting. Broken glass and open sewer lines litter the park. Smashed wood filled with splinters. Metal shards are strewn throughout the streets. There are still empty and abandoned mobile homes that is so infested with mold that you can smell it from down the street.
Words don’t do the situation here justice. Some very unhealthy people are living in this park and they are ignoring them. There is at least one resident that has survived cancer multiple times, and at least one little girl with Leukemia. These are not the kinds of conditions that they should allow to happen for anyone, especially those with compromised immune systems.
They have called their elected officials. They have spoken to code enforcement officers that said, “I don’t see anything wrong.” They have ignored them, marginalized, and given platitudes.
When walking through the streets of the park, it is like a pressing weight of hopelessness. No one seems to know who the new owner is and have no idea how to contact them. There’s a management company that has passed out flyers door to door claiming they’re now in charge. They haven’t addressed the shards of glass or the open sewer line to the residents, simply claiming that the former owner is responsible.
How are these people supposed to get help? According to one resident, the park hasn’t filed the proper paperwork in order to allow the residents to get assistance from the trustee. Another resident says they’ve given up and is in the process of moving out, despite having lived in the community for 20 years. Many others don’t have the money to move even if they wanted to. Calls to officials go unanswered and no one seems to know where exactly to turn.
They filled me with both sadness and rage walking through this park. Street after street had hazards and code violations aplenty. These people have been left to twist in the wind, while excuse and apathy sets in reigning supreme. I promised these people I would get to the bottom of what is going on here, and that’s the track I’m on now. These residents deserve answers. Someone will be giving them some. One way or another.
Learn more about me at www.dionbergeron.com and follow me on social media @DionForCongress.
Born in Houma, Louisiana on February 5th, 1974, Dion was the second son of Floyd and Lynda Bergeron. Dion’s older brother Paul passed away at age 9 from Neuroblastoma when Dion was 5, so he grew up as an only child. Dion saw his father a handful of times throughout his life, but never really bonded with him.
His mother moved him around frequently, sometimes multiple times a year. Raised by his single mother, he lived in Louisiana and Alabama, before moving to Michigan City, Indiana at around age 10.
His mother tried hard, but had a long history of mental illness and addiction. Alcohol and drug abuse were a part of every day life, and they struggled financially. Dion learned the ins and outs of the welfare system from an early age, watching his mother juggle food stamps and bills, and was on track to becoming another statistic himself. Eventually his mother was placed into a care facility.
Dion was forced to grow up fast, and was on his own at 16. The combination of working full time to pay bills and trying to juggle school was too much. He dropped out of High School, but got his GED the day he turned 18. He migrated back and forth between Indiana and Louisiana, unable to find a direction.
At 19, while living in Louisiana, Dion was arrested for Criminal Damage to Coin Operated Vending Machines, a misdemeanor. This would prove a crucial turning point for him.
Dion witnessed the difference in the way the judicial system treats people based on wealth, as he was offered a plea deal: pay a few thousand dollars, and the charges would vanish. Unable to come up with the money, the case proceeded to trial, which Dion lost. Since Dion was with someone who committed the crime, he was just as guilty, the law said, so he was sentenced to one year in the Terrebonne Parish Criminal Justice Complex in Houma, Louisiana. At the time, there was a rash of these crimes, though Dion had no idea, and the prosecutor and judge were under pressure to make an example of him.
It was while here that Dion vowed to turn his life around. He straightened up, and made positive steps to ensure that he would never see the inside of a jail cell again, eventually even becoming a Correctional Officer, having the experience of both sides of the bars, a rarity in law enforcement.
Dion attended local schools in Michigan City since moving here from Alabama with his mother at around 10 years old. St. Paul Lutheran, Joy Elementary, Barker Junior High, and Elston High School formed the foundation of his education. He grew up right here in the region, and sends his children to the public schools here as well because he believes in them.
He attended Ivy Tech for Computer Science, with a focus in Network Administration, and knows first-hand of the student debt incurred by massive numbers of our citizens, as well as the numerous flaws (and strengths) in our higher education system.
Dion’s first job was at the Michigan City Humane Society (and Fried’s Cat Shelter) as a volunteer in his early teens. His first paying job was also at the Humane Society, as they hired him on when he reached legal working-for-pay age.
From food service to transportation, from 10 years as a long-haul truck driver and trainer to 7 years as a Correctional Officer at Indiana State Prison, even becoming a Real Estate Broker, Dion has experience working and dealing with people all across this country, and from all walks of life.
In this time of incredible division, we need the life experience and skills of people who can empathize with those across all walks of life, and Dion embodies a unique opportunity to bridge divides.
Dion Bergeron believes very strongly in honesty, integrity, and accountability. His life experience has taught him that people make mistakes, but taking responsibility for those mistakes and vowing to learn from them is where true character emerges. Perfection is not a human trait, and it is our flaws that make us who we are, and mold our uniqueness.
Dion believes that true freedom is the ability to chart your own course in life, raising yourself up from the crushing yoke of terrible childhood experiences, turning them into strengths, and using that history to connect with people that would otherwise be unreachable.
One of Dion’s core values is family. He is the proud father of 5 children, ranging in age from 23 to 12, and has been happily married to his wife Elizabeth for almost 10 years.
Dion values self-sufficiency and drive, while also understanding that there are times when people need a hand.
Witnessing what is going on in our government, Dion can no longer stand by and simply hope it gets better. Together we can make real progress.