“Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat…I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
Matthew 25: 35-36
In Indianapolis each night, thousands of people search for a place to sleep, but a comfortable bed isn’t always an option for them.
This is the reality of 7,500–9,500 individuals each year in Marion County who experience homelessness according to The Coalition for Homeless Intervention & Prevention (CHIP).
While the data does not include individuals living with other family members or friends, the city of Indianapolis does not allocate funds directly for underfunded homeless service providers.
Proposal 291, written by City-County Council member at-large Leroy Robinson, which recommends better conditions and rights for the homeless, failed to secure the number of votes to pass at the Dec. 1 City-County Council meeting, however it will be back on the table Jan. 27.
Robinson’s proposal would provide the homeless with more protections under the law and help research the feasibility on long-term program ideas.
Robinson’s proposal notes that Marion County has only 10 emergency shelters which accommodate families, most located within Center Township.
Several sections are up for amendment, which include no unfair discrimination or arbitrary treatment of a person based on their homeless status; if a homeless person is displaced, their items must be kept in a secure place; all homeless persons displaced by the city must be provided with individualized services to meet their specific needs by professional outreach workers; among other suggestions.
Robinson said he drafted the proposal for many reasons, the main one being the lamentable lack of leadership that Indianapolis shows for its homeless.
“Currently there are service providers that handle the homeless and my proposal says the city should take the lead and effort by allowing community partners to come on board and help us,” said Robinson.
“We shouldn’t rely on social service organizations to help the homeless. The homeless are also our residents and the city needs to play a role in helping them.”
In early August, a local production company took homeless education to the next level. A Bigger Vision LLC produced and exposed the many dark sides of homeless life in Indianapolis by frequently showing their film “UNCHARTED: The Truth Behind Homelessness” and spreading homelessness awareness.
Within the past few months Robinson, led by those at a Bigger Vision, visited many homeless camps. He describes the experience as having a tremendous impact on him.
“I needed to be able to see and tell people about the experience. I wanted the proposal to be written about them but before I wrote it I went to the camps to see what they (the homeless) wanted,” said Robinson. “After a few months of talking with them I drafted it based off of what they said they needed from the city. If I had went to the providers and asked how did they wanted to help the homeless, the proposal would’ve looked different. It wasn’t the popular route but I feel more comfortable taking that route than any other.”
Robinson recalls the most surprising thing about his visit was the precise organization the homeless exhibited. He noted that camps were set up and maintained in an identical manner to traditional homes with bookshelves, kitchen and sitting space and closets.
Don Sawyer, a Bigger Vision team member, said going into the recent hearing he felt somewhat optimistic, but admits the meeting room was full of confusion.
“Some were simply confused because they didn’t understand the process but a lot of people were confused about why this (proposal) is so hard for the City-County Council to pass,” he said.
“They don’t understand how they can say no to this. When certain counselors against the bill would speak, it would come in a way of ‘I really care about this issue, but’ then they’d give reasons for not supporting it.”
Sawyer believes some audience members were unhappy with the comments some councilors made, because they lacked to express the hard truth and instead, made sensitive remarks. Many audience members often chuckled in disbelief.
“I’m glad it’s not dead but we have a lot more work to do,” commented Sawyer. Keeping this alive is the community support behind it. It gives us a chance to increase support by January by educating people can continuing to show the film.”
Some of that awareness has also spread to the youth.
Students at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School held a protest on Monument Circle in the nonstop rain and arctic temperatures recently where they chanted through microphones “Homelessness is not a crime!” and “Where are their rights?”
In addition to Robinson’s attendance, other councilors such as John Barth, member at-large and Maggie Lewis, Democrat council president and representative of the seventh district were present.
“They are our future. Getting them in the process is critical because we need their voice down the road,” he said. “They want a city that is welcoming to all people and they want to build that now so when they become adults they can live in that type of city.”
Sawyer said another group’s presence is nonexistent: the Black church.
“The African-American church is largely absent on this topic but should be involved more. If they really knew what was going on, I don’t know how they could be absent,” explained Sawyer. “This is the very group of people they are supposed to be standing for according to Matthew 25.”
Robinson stated Indianapolis’ priorities have become economic development, luxury apartments and condos, entertainment, parking garages and even cricket fields. He believes this is one of the reasons his proposal lacked popularity.
“If you look at the history of the City-County Council and the mayor’s office, we just don’t do all we can to help people out. We will do things indirectly, for example-building condos for multimillionaires and the jobs will help the people but that’s temporary,” he said.
The City-County Council is scheduled to meet Jan. 27 to again vote on Proposal 291 and assess the state of the city’s homeless.