Homelessness in Indiana and throughout the country is an issue that plagues every state in increasing numbers. With the current economic conditions, many Hoosiers are struggling to stay afloat.
Anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people in the U.S. are homeless, according to the National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty. Many face the daily toil of uncertainty in nearly every aspect of their lives.
For some it’s common not to question how basic necessities are provided, for the 1,524 homeless individuals in the Greater Indianapolis area, this is not the case, according to Timothy Joyce, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, (CHIP).
“There isn’t a stable part of life when you don’t know where you are going to lay your head down at night and wake up the next morning,” Joyce said. “Someone who has these things can start the day feeling reasonably comfortable, but for the homeless it is the emotional uncertainty and fright of not knowing where you are going to be.”
Experts say the winter months are the most difficult times for the homeless in the city when temperatures hover near freezing and the wintry blasts can be unbearable.
With just over 700 beds in the city, space is limited in shelters, and the cold often draws the homeless off the streets and into already cramped spaces for the night.
“There are some who despite the weather prefer not to sleep in a shelter, and they do their best to survive outside that system,” Joyce said.
Sarah Downing, research and policy analyst of Indiana Coalition on Housing and Homeless Issues, (ICHHI) says though there are several emergency shelters in the state that shield the homeless from the cold, it’s not an ideal situation.
“If you can imagine living in a place with lots of other families, the shelters may not smell good, there’s no privacy and you have no control over your life,” Downing said.
Joyce says these are challenging times for perhaps a whole new population of people who might find themselves in a position to suffer because of the instability of the economy.
According to Sandy Herman, director of marketing for ICHHI, within the last eight years Indiana has lost more than 40,000 manufacturing jobs. Many of those jobs were replaced by lower paying ones.
“There are so many people in our state that are one paycheck away, or are one crisis away from being homeless,” Herman said. “The more someone understands those factors then the more we can do to prevent and minimize those situations.”
As a result, currently the fastest growing population of the homeless are families.
With the broad misconception that the homeless are mostly unemployed, lazy, or are not concerned about the opportunities life has to offer, the 2008 count of the homeless in the Greater Indianapolis area show 23 percent of the homeless are in fact employed.
Another 40 percent suffer from substance abuse, 326 of the 1,524 are victims of domestic violence and 230 of the 1,524 are veterans.
According to the most recent homeless count in the Greater Indianapolis area, 42 percent of the homeless were African-American.
“The person who is considered low income is working the equivalent of 1 ¼ jobs. It is not due to lack of effort that they find themselves in these positions,” Herman said. “Many low income individuals are working at places that don’t pay enough to bring themselves and their families above the poverty threshold.”
Carter Wolf, executive director of Horizon House, a multi-service center for the homeless, says homelessness has always been an issue, but it’s how people deal with it and the false notions associated with this population.
“The people you see downtown on the street reflect a very small portion of the homeless community. Most homeless individuals don’t hang out downtown and they are not panhandlers. They would prefer to remain invisible.”
In honor of the homeless, the National Homeless Person Memorial Service, a day established to acknowledge the existence and passing of the homeless will be observed Dec. 19 at Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral on Monument Circle at 11 a.m.
It is a time to give recognition and to draw collective attention to the issues they face.
The memorial service will be held on the winter solstice, also known as the shortest day and longest night of the year.
Thus far a count of 36 homeless members will be honored by a lit candle during the ceremony to acknowledge their passing. There will be a final candle lit for the unknown who have died.
“This service is designed to say though your loved ones may not be here in great numbers or at all, as a community you are and were a part of us, and we want to take this opportunity to just say goodbye,” Joyce said.
CHIP and other organizations around the city and throughout the state are working to help end homelessness while bringing attention to this crisis many Hoosiers face.