More than two hours of further discussion concerning local homeless issues seemed to raise more questions than it answered this week.
While two dozen community members meeting at City Hall readily agreed about the need for an emergency homeless facility to replace the A-Way Shelter that closed last September, the long-term viability of such a project was brought into question.
Sustainability and financial feasibility surfaced as the major prevailing issues.
Joel Rekas, the Bloomington consultant leading public discussion for the second time in 10 days, provided the group with "a lot of useful information to digest," organizer Bill Wieland summarized after the meeting.
"But two themes that emerged from the discussion that followed his presentation, with regard to next steps, were financial feasibility and program sustainability," Wieland added.
Both issues "need to be assured," he said, "if we are to proceed with a new homeless shelter initiative for Putnam County."
To that end, a smaller group has been charged with tackling financial feasibility, program sustainability and the possibility of partnering with an existing agency. That group includes Ralph Gray, Dean Gambill, Dave Bohmer, Ruth Ralph, Jerry Lewis, Alan Barber, Ken Heeke, Bob Jedele, Chuck Schroeder, Bob Sedlack, John Dittmer, Walker Gilmer and Wieland.
"An honest look at these issues will help us decide if and when we can expect to go forward with this venture," Wieland suggested.
The need for a homeless shelter in the community seems obvious to the volunteers, including Greencastle Township Trustee Steve Butts, who said his office has already received more requests for assistance this year than during all of 2011.
Lynn Tweedie, who said she was surprised and proud to see the community had such a shelter when she moved here from Colorado a few years ago, wholeheartedly agreed to the need.
"We have no business being a Stellar Community," she said, "if we can't take care of our people."
The discussion also moved toward questioning whether the majority of those considered homeless in our community were actually being served under the previous structure of the A-Way Home Shelter.
Even the facilitator, Rekas, voiced concern about the relatively low 51 percent occupancy rate A-Way Home reported last year.
"There isn't another family shelter in Indiana that isn't full and turning people away," Rekas said. "So I'm surprised to see such underutilization."
Last year's statistics showed that overall 144 residents took shelter at A-Way Home, which served 2,400 people over its 15-year lifespan at 309 E. Franklin St. The shelter's daily capacity was 36.
Committee members also pointed to a 2011 survey that characterized 85 students in the Greencastle Community School Corporation as homeless, yet only five of those were listed as living at the A-Way Home shelter.
With that, the group began to throw around terms like invisible homeless, underutilized and barriers.
"I think it had a stigma to it," former mayor Nancy Michael said. "The people who need to use a shelter don't want to be the center of attention."
The location, she said, highly visible on a main Greencastle thoroughfare, may have kept some people away.
"On Franklin Street?" she asked incredulously. "Right across from City Hall?"
But whether the group decides to use the same location or find another, the major issue, most agreed, will be to maintain funding sources for operations and maintenance once it opens.
"We all agree that we need a shelter," Chuck Schroeder offered, "but where is the funding gong to come from?"
He said he hates to start something "where we have the money for the first year but where's the funding going to come from the second year and the third year?"
"Sustainability is the issue," Schroeder continued. "It's like the Humane Society. We got that going, but how do you sustain that funding source?"
John Dittmer, an A-Way Home board member, said the group would typically conduct a couple of fundraisers each year and raise $4,000 or $5,000. Or it would make a plea for assistance and get a story in the paper, and a few $50 checks would come in.
"But that's not what we need (to survive)," he suggested.
What is needed, the group agreed, is a big, sustaining donation or funding source.
A first-year budget of $187,000 was seen as a bare-bones effort to get a new shelter started.
Rekas characterized such budgeting as "somewhere between art form, inexact science and voodoo."
There are no huge block grants sitting out there waiting for communities to tap into them, he assured.
Endowments and corporate foundations can be helpful, he said, but have limits as well.
"Be prepared for plenty of 'We love what you're doing but we don't have any funds available at this time,'" he said.
Looking back on its final days that ended Sept. 9, 2011, A-Way Home operated "hand to mouth" on a $120,000 budget over its final year, Wieland noted.
And one of the reasons the shelter closed, Sedlack explained, was that the executive director had little paid help, and out of budgetary necessity was asked "to do everything."
That is one more reason that one of the next steps is likely to be a feasibility study, Wieland noted.