Inside the Crane Bay Event Center Sept. 14, a group of donors experienced an experimental interactive art exhibit that depicts the stories and challenges of youth facing homelessness in Indianapolis.

The exhibit was part of the annual Outreach Inc. — a community-based nonprofit that works alongside youth, ages 14-24, facing homelessness — “Transform” event. This event works to increase awareness of youth homelessness in the city.

“Art helps tell stories in many ways and can truly be life changing. Our Transform event uses this medium to showcase an issue in our community but also shines a light on the resiliency of our young people when faced with such adversity,” said Andrew Neal, Outreach Inc. CEO.

RELATED: Holistic housing programs help more Indianapolis youth at risk of homelessness

Transform: Addressing youth homelessness

Transforming Youth Homelessness
Donors and supporters for Outreach Inc. participated in Outreach Inc.’s annual Transform event Thursday, September 14. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

“I wanted to give people the experience, not to just come to a fundraiser and be excited about giving money, but understand what they’re really giving money to,” said exhibit curator Sherrita Niles, also known by her pseudonym Plum Virtu.

“We incorporated art into an interactive game of life. It gives the experience of some of the issues youth that come to Outreach experienced through this card game.”
Artists Synergy, Juanita Taylor, Feayrra Bell, Elijah Montgomery, Adizzle and Sarah Chico Mikler also helped create the exhibit.

“A lot of times the people who come to the event are out of touch with what really happens at the center, how serious it is, because this group of individuals are not like any other group that experiences homelessness,” said Niles.

Outreach has three Program Centers across Marion County — located in Near Eastside, Old Southside and Lawrence — that provide essential services, such as meals, showers, laundry services and a clothing pantry.

Additionally, Outreach uses a highly relational model of coaching to connect youth to resources for employment, life skills, educational programming and housing.

“It’s different than what you see in adult homelessness; youth find other ways. You don’t usually see them in encampments like adults. We call them the hidden population,” said Chief Development Officer for Outreach Kevin Robb.

According to Robb, an estimated 7,800 youth and young adults will experience homelessness this year in Marion County.

Transforming Youth Homelessness
Sherrita Niles, also known as “Plum Virtu,” as her artist’s name curated the exhibit that gives people the Outreach experience. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

Outreach Inc.

Over 15,000 unhoused youth in Indiana were enrolled in public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. 77.6% of those youth were living with another family member; 10.9% were living in hotels/motels; 10.2% were living in shelters and transitional housing, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

“You can have youth who come in and they are going from couch-to-couch with their friends or other family members. A lot of young people who come in are within the foster care system,” said Outreach Director of Young Adult Services Anthony Dumas.

Dumas said the centers can see 40-60 youth on average coming in for any given service or program they provide.

“It’s about bringing awareness to this very serious issue. Working at Outreach brings new opportunities, because we even have previous youth that we’ve served working for us now, because it’s about family here,” said Dumas.

Niles said Outreach gives youth direction, with the goal of helping them either get out of homelessness or stopping them before they reach homelessness.

“We purposely made the artwork chaotic and confusing because that’s how a lot of youth feel. They might be at a fun event and exhibit, but these are real life situations that young people have experienced,” said Niles.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON