Women and children’s shelter dealing with ‘unprecedented’ numbers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Jami Culvahouse walked into the Wheeler Mission Center for Women and Children during the winter in 2016 with little more than the clothes she had after a years long battle with addiction.

“Walking in here I was very broken,” she said. “I came in just looking to, you know, fill a spot for a couple months.”

What she found inside was more than a place to lay her head, though. She heard someone else’s story, and for the first time in a while, she said she felt hope.

“Just grabbed a hold of that love and that love of Jesus that shines in here,” Culvahouse said.

Now she works at the shelter. But this year, she’s seeing more women and children there than ever before. In fact, the shelter said it’s seeing unprecedented numbers.

“This is the first time we’ve seen numbers like this, ever,” Colleen Gore, the director of the center, said.

Gore said they’re running 30 or 40 percent higher than what they typically do, a mix of those experiencing chronic homelessness and those recently homeless.

Each winter they open up gym space for cots and mats for guest to sleep on as winter contingency shelter space. Typically they expect an increase from November to January in guests. They’re still expecting that increase, though.

“We do not turn anyone away in winter contingency, but I will tell you if we hit that point where we increase like we do usually as the winter progresses I don’t know what that’s gonna mean because we don’t have a plan b yet we’re working on it,” Gore said.

For example, Gore said they conducted a point in time count. Last year, on one day they counted 7 women sleeping on the gym floor. This year, she said they counted 77 women and children. So now, they’re trying to figure out what’s behind it.

“I wish I knew. So that’s a question we’re all asking,” she said.

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention is paying attention to the increase.

“I think we’re definitely paying attention to that and trying to better understand the increase that they’re seeing particularly because it seems kind of like an outlier from what we’ve seen in years past,” Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, the coalition’s executive director, said.

CHIP is expected to conduct it’s annual point in time homeless count next month.

Meanwhile, Gore said the shelter is in the process of an expansion but that it will take a couple years.

“I try to pitch in and help wherever I can,” Jami Culvahouse said.

Right now behind the shelter doors, Culvahouse is now sharing her story to guests, helping to spread a little more hope.

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