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Homelessness Count Shows Slight Decrease, But Problem Persists

Report shows most of Indianapolis' homeless population is Black

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Homeless

The results of the annual Indianapolis Homeless Point-in-Time Count show a decrease in chronic homelessness, but a wide gap in racial disparities in the population remains.

On Thursday, May 23, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention released the results of the yearly study, which was conducted the night of Wednesday, Jan. 30.

To conduct the PIT Count, volunteers take to the streets of Marion County for one night each January in an effort to capture an accurate picture of those experiencing homelessness. The first PIT counts were conducted federally in 2005, and are now required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Continuums of Care to receive funding.

The results of this year's study show the number of homeless individuals counted decreased from 1,682 in 2018 to 1,567 in 2019. This is a decrease of 115 individuals, or 7 percent.

However, 61 percent of the people counted were Black and 35 percent were white. More than half of the individuals were between the ages of 35 and 61, while 18 percent were 17 or younger, according to the report.

In 2019, 10 percent of the PIT population was experiencing homelessness for the first time. A majority of the individuals identified by the PIT Count were staying in emergency shelters (66 percent), followed by transitional housing (26 percent), unsheltered locations (7 percent), and safe havens (1 percent).

Chronic homelessness down

Chronic homelessness decreased by 39 percent as compared to results of the 2018 PIT Count. In 2019, 125 individuals were chronically homeless as compared to 205 individuals in 2018. Seventy-three of these individuals were sheltered and 52 were unsheltered. In the 2019 PIT, 8 percent of the total homeless population were considered chronically homeless.

More than 100 youth and families (totaling 412 individuals) were counted, a decrease of seven households (5 percent) since 2018. The majority of these individuals (66 percent) were youth under the age of 18. Overall, all but two families were sheltered, with 73 percent of individuals in families in emergency shelters. In the 2019 PIT, 26 percent of the homeless population were individuals in families.

Other key findings include:

- 30 percent reported having a serious mental illness.

- 18 percent have some form of physical disability.

- 17 percent reported a substance abuse disorder.

- 15 percent are currently fleeing domestic violence.

- 13 percent reported having a felony conviction with the proportion of unsheltered individuals who reported a felony conviction reaching a five-year high of 52 percent.

In addition, there was a slight increase (3 percent) in veterans experiencing homelessness but the number of unsheltered veterans reached a five-year low.

Solutions to the problem

Released July 19, 2018, the Indianapolis Community Plan to End Homelessness is a five-year plan with specific goals and tasks assigned to the city and various partner agencies.

The main goal of the plan states that “by 2023, any individual or family in Indianapolis who become homeless will spend no more than 30 days without a permanent, safe, affordable place to live.”

On Nov. 20, 2018, Mayor Joe Hogsett, in coordination with the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety, announced $500,000 in new funding will be allocated to increase visibility and police presence in areas experiencing a high occurrence of aggressive panhandling, as well as provide services and outreach for those experiencing homelessness.

Under the proposal, up to $250,000 in new funding would be allocated to partner organizations for permanent housing solutions and direct services for the city’s downtown homeless population.

In January, the city also joined the Central Indiana Community Fund to launch the Housing to Recovery Fund, a $4 million fundraising commitment for services to help sustain permanent housing, with the ultimate goal of ending chronic homelessness in Indianapolis.

The funds raised are directed at supportive services including initial outreach and engagement, housing navigation, assistance with obtaining benefits, landlord negotiation, and help with daily living skills.

Other solutions have focused on a more punitive approach.

A “No Sit/No Lie Ordinance” was introduced Sept. 24, 2018 by City-County Councilor Mike McQuillen and called for a prohibition on “the sitting or lying upon the surface of a public right-of-way at certain times within the Downtown Mile Square.”

If passed, the ordinance would have prohibited any person from sitting or lying on “any surface in a 'public right of way,' or upon a blanket, chair, stool, bedding, or any other object placed upon the surface of a public right of way” between 6 a.m. and midnight.

The ordinance came under intense scrutiny from homelessness advocates, and the Indianapolis City-Council ultimately pulled it at the Dec. 3, 2018 meeting before a full vote could be taken.

Writer - Local Government and Justice

My background is that I'm the fourth generation in my family to work as a journalist. I also have a degree from Indiana University in Elementary Education. My wife, Ash, and I have two children, Harper, 4, and Emerald, 1.