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Homeless count shows more in homes with children

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A survey of Indiana’s homeless population this year shows nearly half were homeless with their families and that the number of homeless households with dependent children had risen 7 percent from two years ago.

Data released this month by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority shows agencies and volunteers counted 4,053 homeless men, women and children in 40 of Indiana’s 92 counties on Jan. 29. That does not include more than 2,000 counted separately in Indianapolis and St. Joseph County, which includes South Bend.

The information, while incomplete, offered a snapshot of Indiana’s homeless population at a time when the recession not only had displaced parents and other adults from their jobs but also forced them from stable housing as they used up savings and other resources. The total included 1,916 people counted in households with dependent children.

The count groups homeless individuals into units that it termed households.

Kim Austin, 44, of Anderson, had to give up a job to care for two grandchildren, ages 5 and 7. Her son — the children’s father — went out one day and didn’t come back, and she had the man she was living with arrested when he became abusive, she said. Friends didn’t have enough room for her and the kids, so they went to a women’s shelter two months ago.

“It’s hard sometimes, it gets really frustrating, but you can’t let it get to you,” said Austin, who now spends her days looking for a job, going on interviews and taking classes.

The data compiled by the state showed about one in five homeless households included victims of domestic abuse.

The statewide count, required by the federal government every two years, no doubt missed many homeless people because a severe storm on Jan. 29 left many homeless people unreachable and volunteers unable to get out, experts said.

Also, it did not reach more than half of the state’s counties, including large swaths of rural western, southern and southwestern Indiana.

“I’m sure every community has folks that are homeless,” said Luzada Hayes, executive director of Aurora Inc. in Evansville. “They may not really realize it or may not want to admit that, but I’m sure there are folks in every county that are without housing.”

The count two years ago found 4,906 homeless people, the IHCDA data showed.

Evansville and surrounding Vanderburgh County had 486 homeless families or individuals in the count, more than any other county besides Marion, which includes Indianapolis. Allen County (Fort Wayne) had 354 homeless households and Lake County (Gary) had 325.

Alternatives Inc. in Anderson runs an emergency shelter with 48 beds for women and children, including victims of domestic violence. However, Executive Director Mary Jo Lee said its clients also include women forced to live apart from husbands because the shelter does not allow men, who are referred elsewhere.

“We actually have more women in the shelter that are working, but at jobs that don’t begin to get them back on their feet,” Lee said.

The data showed 1,631 households in emergency shelters Jan. 29 and 696 in transitional housing, a step up from shelters, but 475 households, including 77 with dependent children, had no fixed shelter.

Counts conducted separately from the statewide tally showed 1,484 people without homes in Indianapolis and 529 in St. Joseph County.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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