Indy gets $5 million in federal funds to help the homeless

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- A 2016 homeless funding crisis, exacerbated by a fumbled federal grant request, led the way to a reboot of Indianapolis’ focus on providing for the homeless and has set the city on a path to tackle a problem chronic in America’s largest cities and visible everyday on the streets and intersections of Marion County.

“Today I am pleased to announce that the city of Indianapolis will receive over $5 million to fund Continuum of Care initiatives,” Mayor Joe Hogsett told a crowd at Horizon House, a services site for the homeless near downtown Indianapolis.

It was the city’s second major homeless initiative announcement in as many days.

The grant money will fund a new emphasis on rapid re-housing to mitigate the corrosive effects of homelessness as soon as possible.

“It puts us on a path where we have truly developed a system where you can get needs met wherever you are on the spectrum at a lower cost to taxpayers and a better result to those people who are in need,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett.

Not only will the grant recipients find housing faster for those suddenly on the street, there will also be data, portal and software updates to connect agencies and make references in a timely fashion.

“In Indianapolis we have anywhere from 8-10,000 homeless annually every year. About 80 percent of them are new to homelessness, they have not been homeless before,” said Alan Witchey of the  Coaliition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention.

Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless while nationwide the average age of a homeless American is 7 years old.

Monday, the mayor cut the ribbon on the Reuben Engagement Center which will provide an alternative to jail for persons picked up by police suffering from mental illness, addiction or homelessness issues.

“These last two days have been two big steps on the road to systemic reform across the county,” said Bennett who predicts taxpayer money will be better spent incarcerating dangerous offenders as opposed to nuisance violators with nowhere else to go.

“Even if you don’t live downtown, you are seeing people everyday that are experiencing homelessness whether you know it or not,” he said. “To get them off the street, to get them out of danger, to not incarcerate or send them to emergency rooms when they don’t need to go there, that lowers costs to all of us.”

In 2015, under former Mayor Greg Ballard, grant writers failed to recognize that federal funding priorities had changed and applications from several Indianapolis homeless agencies were not approved.