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‘They have nowhere to go’: When young people face homelessness

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It’s been a nightmare of a year for Carly Jackson. She got kicked out of a career training program, woke up in an Indianapolis hospital after trying to take her life, lived outside and bounced around to different houses and now stays at Wheeler Mission.

But things are starting to turn around for the 19-year-old, who hopes to be in an apartment within the first couple of weeks in October.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “This is my first time actually having my own apartment.”

Jackson grew up in the foster care system after being taken away from her parents when she was 6. She was born in Gary but has lived all over the state in foster homes, transitional housing and treatment centers. She moved in with an aunt in Nebraska around 2015 but got in trouble there and had to come back.

Jackson was about to get sent to a shelter in Columbus after failing a drug test and getting kicked out of Atterbury Job Corps Center in Edinburgh when she attempted suicide in January. She woke up in a hospital in Indianapolis and has been here since.

‘I’ve just been hurt’: Carly’s search for hope

“Sometimes I don’t know who I am,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t know what’s real. It’s like my reality is so messed up. It’s really sad.”

Jackson could have stayed in foster care until she’s 21 — the state extended the age from 18 in 2018 — but she signed herself out of Child Protective Services when she was 18. Being shipped from home to home left her exhausted. Jackson enrolled in a housing voucher program from Indianapolis Housing Agency for young adults who aged out of the foster care system.

Of course, it’s not just 18-year-olds aging out of the foster care system who are at risk of homelessness.

For every 50 people experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis, seven are 24 or younger, according to the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) Count conducted by the IU Public Policy Institute and Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP). 

That count was taken in January, though, before the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic fallout, and it’s difficult to tell what exactly has happened to youth and young adults since then.

At Stopover Inc., which provides emergency shelter and other services to homeless teenagers and young adults, there weren’t any teens in the emergency shelter for 12- to 17-year-olds as of Sept. 21, according to Executive Director Amber Ames.

That doesn’t mean teens are all safely housed right now. Most likely, Ames said, it’s because they don’t want to get on CPS’ radar. (Stopover Inc. has to get permission from CPS for a minor to stay in its shelter if the group can’t get ahold of the parents.)

Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, executive director of CHIP, said in a previous interview with the Recorder first-time homelessness could be an issue. That wouldn’t necessarily lead to a visible increase in homelessness, though, as those people might be able to get short-term help from family and friends who let them stay at their house while waiting for assistance from the government or an organization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a ban on evictions through the end of the year for renters and homeowners with an annual income less than $99,000 who can certify they have no other housing options.

The state had a moratorium on evictions until mid-August, and homeowners can apply for aid through the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network. Indianapolis’ rent assistance fund received another $7.5 million from the last of the city’s federal relief funds, and city officials expect the funding to last through December.

Derris Ross, founder of The Ross Foundation, which serves the far east side around 42nd Street and Post Road, said there were still some unlawful evictions in the area during the moratorium, and there were instances of landlords threatening evictions. Once young people lose housing, they usually end up crashing at someone else’s house or squatting in an abandoned house, Ross said.

“They resort to doing what they gotta do to survive,” he said.

Part of the issue, Ross said, is young people are less likely to know their rights. The Ross Foundation has a tenants rights union with 50-75 members.

The biggest factors contributing to homelessness on the far east side are a high recidivism rate and youth aging out of the foster care system, according to Ross. It can be especially difficult for those with a criminal record to find decent housing.

“They have nowhere to go,” Ross said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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