2 solutions aim to fix growing homelessness problem in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There are two plans on the drawing board that city leaders say will drastically improve the issue of homelessness in Indianapolis.

On Tuesday, Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) announced a $500,000 plan to tackle the problem. This comes as a controversial homelessness ordinance makes its way through the City-County Council's approval process.

“We are announcing a new initiative to address issues around homelessness and panhandling in the mile square,” said Hogsett during the announcement.

The mayor is hoping the infusion of $500,000 will be what it takes to get a grip on downtown panhandling and homelessness. Under the plan, $250,000 will go to housing organizations, with the other $250,000 to help law enforcement fight aggressive panhandling.

“We will be working with community partners to explore piloting a workforce training program that will engage panhandlers in community beautification efforts,” said Hogsett.

So where is the money coming from? The short answer: parking meters. City leaders are looking to synchronize all the parking meters downtown, so they all shut off at the same time. Right now, some shut off earlier than others.

“The math shows that if they all turn off at 9:00 for example, it generates a source of revenue that can be used to address issues like panhandling and homelessness,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett.

That’s a decision that ultimately has to be passed by the City-County Council. The deputy mayor said he hopes it happens by January. In the meantime, the so-called “sit and lie ordinance” also continues to work its way through the council approval process.

“The purpose of the sit and lie ordinance as written is to get rid of the panhandlers,” said Councilman Michael McQuillan (R). “I don’t care where they go, just go away….homeless individuals, our neighbors who are the most vulnerable and in need, to help get them into some of these quality organizations.”

McQuillan sponsored the ordinance, which has already gained some opposition.

“The way that it’s being brought up is a way to criminalize homelessness in the downtown mile square,” said Noah Leininger of Answer Indiana, a group which opposes the ordinance.

“I think it’s very dis-compassionate to allow people to lie on the streets and not help them,” said McQuillan. “So, for those people who try to say that we’re trying to criminalize homelessness, I say quite the opposite, we’re trying to help our homeless neighbors.”

The question is whether either of these approaches make a difference? City leaders are hoping yes, expressing optimism at the mayor’s announcement Tuesday.

“So I think it’s a bipartisan solution that will go a long way to help all these problems,” said McQuillan.