Downtown business owners concerned about increased homeless population on Monument Circle

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Those who live and work around downtown Indianapolis say they’ve seen a noticeable increase in the number of homeless or vagrant individuals around Monument Circle in the last few months.

“It’s people that I don’t recognize,” said Downtown Comics owner Doug Stephenson.  “We’ve always had our regulars down here, but there’s a new, and it’s a younger group of people.”

Stephenson says he’s heard from other business owners and customers who’ve noticed the same thing. Some customers have reported feeling uncomfortable or unsafe while walking to his store, he said.

But, panhandling isn’t Stephenson’s biggest concern. He’s more worried about criminal activity that he says is common in the alley off Market St., next to his store. He says fights and drugs can be observed there just about every night.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with panhandling or homeless,” he said. “It’s petty criminal activity, drugs, things like that.”

Tom Tuttle, who manages Street Reach Indy through the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), says homelessness in Indianapolis is driven by several factors.  He says the most immediate reason for the increase on Monument Circle is the recent closure of several homeless camps just outside the downtown area.

“There’s been seven camp dislocations that were surrounding downtown since mid-April,” Tuttle said.  “And that affected about 110 to 120 individuals.”

The issue comes as Street Reach Indy approaches the one-year anniversary of collecting donations to address homelessness in Indianapolis.  The program collects donations through its website, as well as multiple cash boxes and meters throughout the downtown area. Over the last year, Tuttle says the program has helped more than 300 homeless individuals with permanent housing, substance abuse treatment and transportation.

“Some of those people who were stranded here, we were able to get them bus tickets to get them home and off the streets,” Tuttle said.  

Tuttle says up to 30 percent of the people who were living in homeless camps were benefiting from the Street Reach Indy program. Many of those individuals have now moved to Monument Circle, where they are more visible to the public.

“We have about 14,000 people that experience homelessness in the city every year,” Tuttle said.  “Of those, about 82 percent of those individuals are homeless for the very first time.’

Indianapolis code does not ban panhandling, but it does limit where panhandling is allowed.  Aggressive panhandling can result in arrest by IMPD.

Stephenson says he’d like to see a heavier police presence around Monument Circle, especially near the alley near his store. 

He says he and other business owners plan to address the issue during a meeting next week with City-County Councilor Vop Osili and a representative from Mayor Hogsett’s office.  

“We’re not inhuman monsters, we just don’t want illegal activity negatively impacting our business down here, that’s the bottom line,” Stephenson said.  “And we don’t want people to be afraid to come downtown, we don’t want that to happen.”

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