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Homeless population growing, agencies say

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All homelessness-prevention services in Bartholomew County work together to combat a homeless population that, according to data, has grown from the year before.

Each year, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority commissions a statewide point-in-time count of the homeless in 13 regions and two sub-regions across the state. This year’s homelessness count — conducted on Jan. 29 — found an increase of 11 homeless households in Bartholomew County from 2013.

Bartholomew County accounted for more than 50 percent of the region’s total number of homeless households, which also included data from Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings, Johnson and Shelby counties. The county did see a small decrease in homeless people younger than 18 but had a rise in the number of homeless families with at least one adult and one child.

However, the point-in-time survey is conducted on only one day a year and includes the number of homeless individuals and families being temporarily housed in emergency facilities, such as Horizon House or Love Chapel, at the time of the assessment. In Bartholomew County’s region, fewer than 10 unsheltered individuals were found during the 2014 one-day survey. County-by-county unsheltered numbers were not made available.

County leaders in homelessness prevention have said the survey is valuable in order to see a ballpark number of the area homeless, but it is not necessarily the most accurate measuring stick when accounting for every homeless person and family.

“I think these numbers are wonderful, they are invaluable to what we do. But at the same time, I don’t know if they are truly 100 percent realistic,” said Michele Lee, director of the Department of Homeless Prevention for Human Services Inc.

Early this year, the Advisory Council on Safe and Affordable Housing established a winter contingency plan to help reduce the amount of homeless individuals on the street in below-freezing temperatures. Any homeless person needing immediate shelter could place a call to the Columbus Township trustee’s office or to another emergency assistance provider and be placed in a temporary housing situation right away.

Bartholomew County providers of homeless assistance pointed to the winter contingency plan as one of the benefits of collaboration among several organizations in the area.

The Columbus Township trustee and staff from Horizon House, HSI, Love Chapel, Centerstone and other homeless-assistance entities meet on a monthly basis as a part of a homelessness subcommittee for the mayor’s Advisory Council on Safe and Affordable Housing.

“We are very much about collaborating and working together so that we are not duplicating the services already provided in the community,” said Elizabeth Kestler, Love Chapel director.

Lindsay Potts, a staff member with Centerstone, said, “We are all coming around the table and really hashing out ideas to really serve this population. All of the discussion at all of these meetings always centers around collaboration. Everyone has really come together.”

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