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Horizon House fighting disparities in homelessness

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Lamont Howard often takes showers and eats meals at Horizon House, a day center for Indianapolis residents experiencing homelessness.

Howard, 53, is one of nearly 6,000 Hoosiers who dealt with housing insecurity in 2021. That year, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention announced homelessness in Indiana was at a 10-year high.

Despite only making up 28% of the Indianapolis population, 54% of homeless people in Indianapolis are African American.

Though there are few direct studies examining why homelessness disproportionately impacts African Americans, Marcie Luhigo, director of development and communications at Horizon House, said the disparity is likely the result of discriminatory housing practices and systemic issues.

“For example, are these folks given less leeway on leasing issues such as damages, late rent or deposits?” Luhigo wrote in an email. “Systemic issues such as being more likely to be convicted of the same crimes than white community members will create a criminal record that makes it more challenging to find housing.”

Further, roughly 28% of Black Hoosiers live in poverty — another catalyst for homelessness — compared to the 20% national average.
Howard said generational trauma played a role in him becoming homeless. Growing up in the Meadows neighborhood in Indianapolis, Howard saw significant shifts in his community throughout his adolescence. After a white flight from Meadows in the 1970s and ‘80s, the neighborhood suffered years of neglect from the city, and the crime rate rose rapidly, according to the digital archive Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.

“I rode my bike all around that neighborhood and there were some good times. My parents had struggled for racial equity,” Howard said. “Their time was marching and Dr. King. What was around me was different. … I do not believe in making excuses. I do think that there was slavery, then lynchings and segregation, and then hope, but the time of hope didn’t change this world enough. The people around me acted out in anger, without hope.”

Making services at the Horizon House more accessible and inclusive is a priority for the organization in 2022.

“Horizon House has a DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] Committee of Staff and Board, and this year they will be working with an outside consultant to ensure that we are doing all that we can for the board, staff and those experiencing homelessness to create an organization that is diverse, equitable and inclusive,” Luhigo said. “Horizon House has internally worked to create an inclusive environment, but we believe this objective assessment is necessary to ensure that we are creating the environment and access to services that we intend.”

Among the services provided by Horizon House — which includes access to showers, food and clothing — the day center also offers access to peer support specialists thanks to a $1.4 million grant from Lilly Endowment in 2021. The specialists work with those in need to help them find housing, overcome employment barriers and find treatment for substance abuse disorder.

For Howard, Horizon House offers him something he didn’t have much of growing up: hope.

“Horizon House staff were joyful when they saw me,” Howard said. “They are such good-spirited people. I feel their love for me. I have love for them. My next goal is to love and understand myself. I feel confident in my life and future because of my relationship with God. I don’t look at the past anymore. Right now, I’m free. I would tell others, if your past is bad, do not dwell on it. Make new memories.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

For more information on the Horizon House, visit www.horizonhouse.cc.

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