More people working — and homelessTim Burris Thousands of low-income people in Indianapolis are finding it increasingly difficult to afford housing. Out of Reach 2004, a study compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based National Low Income Housing Coalition, found that people earning minimum wage here need to work 72 hours per week just to afford a studio apartment. “Indiana is … failing when it comes to those most at risk.” —Dan Shepley is executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Protection This comes as no surprise to Dan Shepley, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Protection. “Indiana is doing a great job with housing for low to moderate income people, but failing when it comes to those most at risk,” he said.

According to Shepley, Indianapolis suffers from a shortage of about 15,000 units for people earning less than $19,140, or 30 percent of the annual median income in Indianapolis. “Where do we put these people, especially in this season when we’re trying to get them in out of the cold?” Shepley asked.

Shelters are overflowing with people in need of emergency housing. Horizon House has seen a steady increase in their numbers over the last few years, but experienced a significant increase when the Salvation Army closed its day center in the summer of 2004. Carter Wolf, Horizon executive director, has seen a big increase in the number of people who are employed and homeless. “I have a room full of guys who are willing to work, but a minimum wage employee has a tough time keeping housing in Indy,” Wolf said.

Out of Reach found that the wage needed to afford just a studio apartment in Indianapolis is $9.23 per hour. “We expect our citizens to be independent and work, but they can’t make enough to support themselves,” Wolf said.

According to Holy Family Shelter director Bill Bickel, shelters have become the replacement for affordable housing. Holy Family provides services to homeless families. “We should not be a source of permanent housing for these families; it’s not a very dignified approach,” Bickel said.

The indignities are apparent when people enter the world of market-rate rent, only to return to the shelter when they find they can’t afford it. A minimal amount of subsidized housing is available, but, “It’s difficult for people to get subsidized housing, especially if they’ve been kicked out of a previous program or have a spotty rental record,” Bickel said.

The challenge is even more daunting for homeless people with addiction or mental health issues. “What do you do about mental illness or drug addiction?” Wolf asked. One Horizon client was precluded from federally subsidized housing because of a 10-year-old drug conviction.

“If you have money you go to Betty Ford or Hazelden and no one will even know,” said Wolf, noting that it all comes down to resources. “The difference between rich and poor is the resources they have to deal with the exact same problems.”

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