Initiative targets help for homeless

A new effort to reduce homelessness in Jackson County and surrounding counties will be unveiled late this summer or early fall.

Under an initiative being developed by Centerstone Behavioral Health and Thrive Alliance, the plan will utilize a concept called supportive housing.

Its first priority will be to provide the homeless, including people with untreated mental illness and substance-abuse disorders, with housing as quickly as possible, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

That, however, is easier said than done, said Mark Lindenlaub, Thrive Alliance executive director.

Conventional landlords usually want upfront assurances there will be no problems before they are willing to rent to the homeless, he said.

“However, it’s a catch-22 situation,” Lindenlaub said. “You can’t treat the problem until you have housing.”

Assurances sought by landlords often include mandated therapy or compliance requirements over an extended period of time, according to the alliance’s website.

But studies show that most people become homeless only after a personal crisis and require brief — if any — support or assistance, according to a news release announcing the initiative.

For individuals or families facing such a crisis, supportive housing — also known as Housing First — provides short-term assistance to find permanent housing quickly and without conditions.

In contrast, longer-term services for the chronically homeless, which often includes addicts and the mentally ill, are provided to promote not only housing stability but individual well-being.

“The opioid-heroin epidemic is increasing long-term homelessness in Bartholomew and surrounding counties, and supportive housing is a critical need right now,” said Wayne Fancher, who manages supportive housing services for Centerstone.

The city of Seymour also plans to participate in the new initiative.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said he had been scheduled to meet with officials involved in the initiative to get more details. That meeting was set for March 1, the day a series of storms caused a nearly citywide power outage. The meeting is going to be rescheduled.

Luedeman said he absolutely supports the initiative.

“I think mental illness and homelessness go hand-in-hand, and those with mental illnesses often have drug abuse issues,” he said.

A lot of times, those same people don’t have funds or insurance they need to help themselves and just need support, Luedeman said.

Jackson County Sheriff Michael Carothers said while addressing homelessness is important, it is just one part of the effort that needs to begin with dealing with drug abuse and mental health issues.

“It has to be the complete package,” he said.

In addition to Jackson County, the plan also is being developed for use in Bartholomew, Johnson, Shelby, Decatur, Jackson, Brown and Jennings counties.

Besides the desire to address social concerns, supportive housing can save a substantial amount of tax dollars, Lindenlaub said.

Evidence suggests the program breaks a costly cycle of people living on the streets to over-rely on expensive crisis services and high-cost medical care, such as emergency rooms, according to studies.

As a result, fewer private and public dollars are required for hospital bills, detox center expenses, jails and other public institutions, the release stated.

While all supportive housing programs share the same basic elements, program models vary depending upon the population served, Lindenlaub said.

That’s why a team that represents both Centerstone and Thrive Alliance has begun six months of intense training through the 2017 Indiana Supportive Housing Institute.

These efforts usually result in either new housing or extensive renovations that improve both the appearance and value of economically depressed areas, Fancher said.

The team plans to conduct neighborhood meetings, host public forums and make presentations to the Columbus City Council, as well as to local organizations, before final decisions are made, Fancher said.

From now through the summer, the team members will study and work with experts to develop a Housing First model that best fits the region’s needs and concerns, Lindenlaub said.

After training at Bloomington is completed in August, the team is expected to emerge with a plan to target a specific group to provide assistance, Lindenlaub said.

Up to $2 million will then be made available before the team presents its plans and proposal to a group of public and private investors for their consideration this fall, Lindenlaub said.

Six supportive housing units are located in Bartholomew and surrounding counties, Fancher said.

While Lindenlaub is hopeful that up to 12 additional units will be added, Fancher said recent surveys show 75 more are needed in Bartholomew and surrounding counties to adequately address the need.

“This will make a dent,” Lindenlaub said. “By working together to bring stable housing to those who are facing countless challenges, we can end homelessness.”

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Besides Centerstone and Thrive Alliance, other key players in developing a supportive housing plan in south central Indiana are:

  • Indiana Supportive Housing Institute
  • Corporation for Supportive Housing
  • Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority
  • City of Columbus
  • City of Seymour

Other partnering organizations are expected to be recruited at a later date.