Initiative targets help for homeless

A new effort to reduce homelessness in Bartholomew 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.

However, that’s 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.

That’s a key reason why the city of Columbus is also participating in the new initiative with Centerstone and Thrive Alliance.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop described homelessness as a complex issue, he said providing housing for the chronically homeless “is the next issue we need to address to reduce drug addiction and mental health issues in our region.”

In addition, the new initiative has received the endorsement of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, which is often required to supply treatment to inmates with drug, mental and physical problems.

“I believe that getting a roof over their heads is a critical first step,” Sheriff Matt Myers said.

In addition to Bartholomew County, the plan is also being developed for use in 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 began 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 will 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.”

Key players

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

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

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.