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New effort to help homeless duplicating services?

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A newly established homeless-prevention group wants to build a shelter in Columbus, a move creating some controversy among those who help the homeless now.

The Columbus Homeless Independent Resiliency Program, or CHIRP, recently became incorporated and has applied to become a nonprofit organization.

“Our ultimate goal is to open an emergency shelter and a transition home,” CHIRP director Linda Schadenfroh said. “We are either going to find a building, or we are going to find a place to build a building.”

Schadenfroh said she has been assisting the homeless for years. But she recently increased her efforts to provide housing and transportation to the homeless by recruiting about 25 volunteers.

“We are trying very hard to get the homeless off the street and into jobs,” Schadenfroh said. “We have a lot of homeless. There is urgency for this.”

Schadenfroh said her intention, if she is able to meet the strict requirements involved in building a homeless shelter, is to be all-inclusive — no one would be turned away.

“We are not going to discriminate at all,” she said. “Everybody deserves a second chance and maybe even a third chance.”

In July, Schadenfroh talked about the organization’s plans for a 140-bed homeless shelter and transition home in Columbus, speaking to Mayor Kristen Brown’s Advisory Council on Safe and Affordable Housing.

The council was established by the mayor to deal with housing issues, including homelessness.

In the weeks following the meeting, Schadenfroh decreased her shelter bed count number to 50. But she said CHIRP served more than 140 people during January, February and March of this year, which is how she established her original number of beds for the proposed shelter.

Her presentation created some friction between Schadenfroh and the city-funded homeless-prevention programs. Some of the friction came when Schadenfroh asserted that some Bartholomew County’s homeless people are not receiving adequate aid.

“They don’t agree that you can put that many homeless people together in one building, but they aren’t willing to try either,” Schadenfroh said. “If their system works so well, we wouldn’t have all these homeless people.”

Officials who work as homeless-assistance providers in the county say a large homeless shelter isn’t necessary and that CHIRP seems to be duplicating existing services.

“I don’t think we need that large of a bed facility,” said Michele Lee, director of the Department of Homeless Prevention for Human Services Inc. “Because of the services that are in existence now, I don’t think we could even fill a 30-bed facility.”

“I appreciate her big heart, and she’s got some people who work with her who are all very genuine. But when she comes in and if she doesn’t realize there is already a system in place and it would be good to plug into it, then she is really wanting to reinvent the wheel,” said Carl Malysz, Columbus community development director.

Schadenfroh said her organization isn’t taking anything away from the current services other agencies provide but is duplicating them because they are not performing as comprehensively as they should.

“Even though we are offering some of the same services, we are not discontinuing their services,” Schadenfroh said. “We are just doing the services ourselves and doing them a little more thoroughly.

“They are not doing what they are supposed to do, and people can’t get the help they truly need. They (homeless individuals) don’t need a Band-Aid on their situation, they need help.”

Ben Jackson, the Columbus Township trustee, said CHIRP leaders are expecting the current system to be without flaws, which causes them to miss the improvement in services made over the past year.

“I know their heart is in the right place, but I think sometimes they are unrealistic,” Jackson said of the CHIRP group. “They want to judge us against a standard of perfection, which is never going to happen, instead of judging us on how much better the services are now than they were before.”

Schadenfroh occasionally has worked with the established homeless-assistance groups to supplement certain services, usually driving a homeless individual to a housing facility or to a place of employment.

“The other agencies will call us because they need help with a client who doesn’t have a vehicle,” Schadenfroh said. “They aren’t willing to get out there on the streets. They aren’t willing to get to know these people and realize that, wow, they had a stroke of bad luck or they made a mistake years ago and it’s following them.”

Some of the services CHIRP provides are valuable, Lee said, but other services are simply the same as those that are currently offered. She also said she would like to see a better partnership between Schadenfroh’s organization and the service providers in Bartholomew County.

“I think that some of the services they are doing are very important to the homeless families in our community,” Lee said. “I just think that they may be trying to duplicate some services that are already there.

“It would be nice if they would partner more in order to reach the common goal. We all have a common goal, and that is to serve the homeless. I just want all of us to reach that common goal together and not resist each other.”

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