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Friday, May 6, 2016

Reviving homeless shelter on community minds

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It may take a village to raise a child, but fighting homelessness could take an entire community.

That was the general perception Thursday night as more than 60 community leaders shared ideas and issues, optimism and outrage concerning the future of a Greencastle/Putnam County homeless shelter.

Since financial issues forced the Sept. 9 closing of the A-Way Home Shelter, homelessness has taken on a new helplessness locally.

Ruth Ralph of the Johnson-Nichols Clinic knows that firsthand.

"Last week we had two pregnant moms who were getting evicted," she told the gathering at City Hall. "We had nothing for them. We had to send them to Vigo County."

One story like that is too many, of course. But there have been countless others.

"We have a problem," Mayor Sue Murray said in opening the discussion, "and our problem is we have people who don't have a place to sleep at night."

Since the closing of A-Way Home, homeless Hoosiers are without a shelter not only locally but over the entire expanse between Indianapolis and Terre Haute.

"So if you don't have a place to sleep at night, you no longer have a place to go locally," the mayor added, noting that Clay, Parke and Owen counties are in the same boat.

Over the past six months, the A-Way Home Shelter may have been shut down but a small cadre of concerned residents has kept the issue at least on simmer, if not on the front burner.

Mayor Murray pointed to Bill Wieland, Bob Sedlack, John Dittmer and Walker Gilmer as the main group of citizens keeping the shelter idea alive and reaching out to consultant Joel Rekas of Bloomington for help.

Rekas, who retired last spring from operating a community center in Bloomington, visited Greencastle initially less than a week after A-Way Home closed. He has returned several times to meet with local residents about their perceptions of homelessness and how the community might help.

Among the issues the local homeless shelter situation represents is the twin economic challenge of being able to provide more services with fewer resources.

The role of every homeless shelter, Rekas suggested, is catching the people who fall through the cracks in the safety nets our society has established for them.

"People fall through," he said, "and with no where else to go, that's where your emergency shelter comes in."

Rekas reminded the group that A-Way Home isn't the first shelter to close in Indiana, nor will it be the last. But what the community does to replace it is the issue now at hand.

Reviving the shelter -- potentially by creating a new entity divorced from the Greencastle Housing Authority but possibly within the same facility -- remains "a very achievable" accomplishment, Rekas said.

While long-term financial responsibility is paramount, it doesn't stand alone in solidifying the presence of a shelter in the community. A commitment is needed from the whole community, Rekas stressed.

The Greencastle Housing Authority, he said, "deserves a tremendous amount of gratitude" for keeping the shelter open and serving the homeless segment of our population.

"That has been no small feat," Rekas praised of the 15-year struggle that served more than 2,400 people with an average of 15 per day (and a high of 35 over the years).

A new organization devoted exclusively to the homelessness issue is important, Rekas said, and offers a better chance for long-term success.

"You have a great opportunity here to build something from the ground up," the Bloomington consultant continued, "and build it the right way to make it sustainable."

A regional approach was suggested with representatives of the unserved or underserved contiguous counties invited to participate.

"You don't want to roll up your bridge at the county line, but (instead) reach out to convince those adjoining counties it is their problem, too," he said.

And with that joint problem would come a joint opportunity to help.

Former A-Way Home Director Deb Zigler, who is executive director of the Housing Authority, was quick to point out a problem there.

"One of the obstacles we run into trying to go to the outside counties," she said, "is that (they can say), 'Your county's not contributing.'"

While there has been no financial contribution from Putnam County government, the city has retained $7,000 in its budget and United Way has provided $9,000 annually (down from a high of $21,000).

Rekas listed $150,000 as a "bare-bones realistic budget for the program's first year."

"We're asking for people to explore," Mayor Murray said. "We're not asking for you to be fiduciary.

"People need a place to stay," she added. "Homelessness is not going to go away."

Rekas said sometimes the public perception of the homeless paints a picture that belies what is happening in Putnam County and elsewhere in rural Indiana.

The media, he said, paints the face of the homeless as the dirty, mumbling, incoherent street person, where "the real face of homelessness is what you're hearing tonight," he said of those living day to day, hand to hand.

Thursday night's meeting was not meant to find a solution or find a potential funding source, but to rally and gauge interest in the issue.

As the more than 60 in attendance signed up for the general committee to assist in the resurrection of the homeless shelter or volunteered for specific committees like finance, personnel, building or operations and programs, Mayor Murray offered one last round of kudos.

"Once again," she said, shaking her head with pride, "I am blown away by the compassion of this community.

"We are grateful for you coming out tonight and grateful for the men who persevered, and most grateful for Joel ... and we'll be in touch as we see if we can make a difference."

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We really need this! I hope something can be done. One of the potential problems, I figure, is all the government regulations that have to be met and overcome (in addition to the financial needs).

-- Posted by not gullible on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 10:59 AM

Why is there no county money? Why does Greencastle pick up the bill alone when it will serve the whole county?

-- Posted by localmom44 on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 11:48 AM

A 15+ trillion dollar deficit is a hard thing to grasp.

-- Posted by exhoosier2 on Tue, Feb 28, 2012, at 12:28 PM

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