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Blueprints to End Homelessness

Bad News:  Indianapolis has homeless people

In our cynical age, it becomes easy to brush with a broad stroke, writing off all homeless people/panhandlers as lazy folks looking to get over or take advantage of well-intentioned folk. Mayor Greg Ballard proposed to direct them to services by posting panhandling boxes. “The reason they stay out there is because we keep giving them money and giving them food,” Ballard once said. “We want them to come in and get the services they need. We need to stop giving them money, then they will come in.”

Five donation boxes, much like parking meters, were originally installed in downtown Indianapolis. Money collected would be given to local agencies who help those in need and kind-hearted folks can drop off donations, instead of having to deal with individuals. Services are one way to handle the panhandling problem. Connecting folks with the proper resources is a big part of the battle. But where there is a system, there are cracks, and many of the panhandlers have already fallen through the cracks once.

Even on the assumption that a government solution can manage to funnel money to the proper channels, in a lot of ways, they miss the point: the immediacy of donation. Forget the bureaucratic time delay between donation and aid, there’s the impact of being a decent human being. Sometimes the act of personally giving is simply a matter of acknowledging the existence of the panhandler as a human being.

The way some people see it, for years the city on a government level has had a history of finding out where homeless people congregate—be they in “the tubes” or under the West Washington Street bridge or under the Davidson Street bridge—then either sealing off the area.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has a lawsuit pending against the city and its Police Department that alleges that twice last year, city workers illegally removed and destroyed the possessions of homeless people living under a different bridge.  In January, firefighters extinguished a small fire in the Davidson Street camp.  Kerosene, blankets, and food had been given by well-meaning church folks.  Circle City street workers cleared out the remnants of the camp, but the homeless returned hours later.  Neighbors complained about accumulating trash, harassment, thefts, and belligerent behavior.  Nearly three dozen homeless were displaced when the city finally cleared out the Davidson Street bridge and fenced it off.  Fifty percent chose not to go to shelters.  But that’s not the end of the story.  The fact of the matter is that a lot of homeless people living on the streets are dealing with multiple issues.

According to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 22% of homeless persons are children and teens through age 18. Many of these youth stay with their parents in a shelter. Another quarter of the sheltered homeless are young adults between 18 and 30. Nearly half the sheltered homeless are adults between 31 and 50.  In January of 2007, Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) conducted a point‐in‐time count and estimated that 2,061 people were homeless.  Homelessness is a very complex problem—crossing issues of poverty, education, health—and it requires a complex solution.  There is no one size fits all recipe for dealing with issues of poverty and homelessness.

Good News:  Indianapolis has a variety of help options.

Poverty and homelessness is such a multi-pronged problem covering a variety of physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs; and involves matters of economic development, health, and education.  The strategies tend to be holistic in nature.  Overall, the general strategy in helping the poor follows three paths:  Relief (using the metaphor of poverty as a wound, this would be the kind of urgent, emergency, temporary aid applied); Rehabilitation (which begins as soon as bleeding stops and seeks to restore community); and then Development (the process of ongoing change).

Indianapolis people are good-hearted and generous and can’t see people going in need around them and not do something.  They provide help on a variety of levels.  Some are called to volunteer, to pursue helping others as a vocation, participating in relational ministry on a personal level, or to offer support financially or with prayers.  There are those in government involved in shaping public policy as well as other non-profit organizations.

With verses like “’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40) and “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (I John 3:17), churches feel charged to take care of the poor.  Some churches in Indianapolis are on the front lines dealing with various aspects of homelessness (such as Shepherd Community Church of the Nazarene, Englewood Christian Church, New Paradigm,
The Crossing, Lockerbie Central Methodist).  And that’s not including any parachurch ministries.

There are many homeless agencies cooperating whose work sometimes overlap.  The various organizations used to be competitive but eventually realized the need to stick and work together (bonding through their frustration with everyone else).  Operating through memoranda of understandings (MOUs), they work well together.

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention of Greater Indianapolis (CHIP) (http://www.chipindy.org/) oversees much of the effort, acting as a focal point and a resource for service providers and the lead entity for implementing the Blueprint to End Homelessness, the city’s ten-year plan to end homelessness.  The center provides stats and organizes the Homeless Connect and  Resource Connect seminars.

Homeless Initiative Project (HIP) is more of a street level organization, offering comprehensive case management to homeless persons or families in the greater Indianapolis area.  By proving supportive counseling and referrals for mental health services, pre-employment services, skills training, legal assistance, health care services, they put together a holistic plan to get their clients out of their homeless situation.  Because they are often a “triage” center, their services also focus on acute needs, such as distributing survival supplies such as blankets, food, water and clothing, while at the same time encouraging their clients to move into shelters.  As resources are spare, they can give referrals to emergency shelters, mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment and other emergency resource agencies.  This way they manage the kind of help people receive, making sure people are neither hurting nor enabling the poor.

There are a number of Indianapolis non-profit organizations involved in the battle also:

The Pour House (http://www.pourhouse.org/) uses a relational model to work with the homeless.  They partner with sponsors, merchants, and local organizations to build friendships with the homeless.  They work with people to help them achieve their individual goals.  While they may attend to a person’s basic needs, such as clothing or food, they focus on connecting them to resources, working with existing agencies.  Their target group is mostly adults.

Outreach Inc. (http://www.outreachindiana.org/), a faith-based, non-profit organization, operates similarly to Pour House except they deal mostly with 14-24 year olds, the teen to young adult set in Indy.  They distribute clothing, food, blankets, hygiene products, and related goods on a daily basis. Through their “Drop Times” and case managers, they carve out intentional time with individuals and smaller groups. This way they build relationships with their clients, earning their trust, and creating a strong sense of community.

Tear Down the Walls (http://www.teardownthewallsministries.org/) another parachurch ministry, creates an overlap between Pour House and Outreach Inc.  They hit the streets of downtown Indianapolis twice a week to serve the homeless.  They offer support in case-management, literacy and/or GED tutoring, Biblical counseling, as well as housing and job-search assistance.

The Indy Dream Center (IDC) (http://www.theindydreamcenter.org/) is a non-profit, faith-based
ministry established to meet the needs of those who have been forgotten, rejected, displaced or just simply lost and have no place to go.   In addition to their street ministry, they offer a rehabilitation facility and have had much success in bringing homeless off the street and away from their addictions.

Horizon House (http://www.horizonhouse.cc/) is a private, not-for-profit, homeless multi-service day center providing a variety of professional and hospitable services that empower our homeless neighbors to develop self sufficiency and permanently end their homelessness.   Though they do some street work, they operate mostly from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a day time drop in center.  Their services range from civil legal services, computer literacy programs, long term storage, job readiness training, mental health counseling, addiction support, and placement in Indianapolis real estate.

Wheeler Lighthouse (http://www.wmm.org/) provides temporary emergency shelter to homeless and/or disadvantaged men. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, showers, clothing, chapel services, case management (with referrals to onsite and offsite social service agencies) are provided. Medical, dental, podiatric and vision services are also available.

Because no single agency has the resources and expertise needed to comprehensively address the needs of the homeless.  These local agencies work together with each other and other partners, such as Partners in Housing, Restoring Lives West, and the Bonner Center, to collectively provide the city’s homeless with the various services they need. Indianapolis has a homeless problems, but its citizens have joined together to do something about it.