INDIANAPOLIS — A few times a week, the Downtown Indy Outreach team meets on the steps of Monument Circle for a roll call.
The six-person team is just a few months old but is diving into assisting people experiencing homelessness in downtown Indy.
”We start accessing from the first interaction,” said Niki Wattson, manager of the group. “What is it that they see as a barrier and what is it that we know will also be a barrier.”
Roll call is where they figure out who they need to help.
”Assignments for the day, maybe we’re looking for someone in particular, maybe there are some hotspots happening,” said Wattson.
The six-person team quadruples the group of two that used to be the only specialists out working directly with people experiencing homelessness in the mile square. Having more people means covering more ground.
The team takes calls from downtown residents and businesses whenever they’re concerned about a person experiencing homelessness.
”We’re able to respond in real-time,” Wattson said. “So, in less than 10 minutes we’re able to get a team down there to assess what’s going on, to try and engage an individual, to try and see what barriers are helping in the moment.”
The group has already met with several downtown businesses to talk about the issue of homelessness in the city.
Teresa Wessel, the Executive Director for Horizon House, said she has seen a shift in how downtown businesses and residents interact with neighbors experiencing homelessness.
”The focus is really on how can we help, and not, ‘Let’s get them out of downtown,'” Wessel said. “So treating them with that respect and dignity, we’re all human beings and I just feel people are now giving a bit more graces.”
The outreach team is an 18-month partnership between Horizon House and Downtown Indy Inc. It’s funded with $650,000 of city-allocated federal funding.
”What we want is every person we meet on the street we want to do a housing assessment and get them linked to housing because that’s how we solve homelessness,” Wessel said.
Wessell said the issue of homelessness has only grown these past few years. So far this year, Horizon House has seen 5,000 unique individuals come to them for help. This is roughly 500 more people than this time last year.
”The demand for services just continues to go up, every time we’re seeing more families that are experiencing homelessness,” Wessel said.
The $650,000 will also go toward assisting the IMPD homeless unit. A squad of five patrolmen and a lieutenant work to help people experiencing homelessness throughout the county.
”Most of them we get to know really well, we work really hard establishing a rapport with them so they trust us,” said Patrolman Philip Smiley, who’s been a part of the homeless unit for 13 years.
Smiley is looking forward to working with this new outreach team.
”We absolutely need it, we’re in dire need of more people doing outreach with specialties they can bring to the table,” he said.
If you want to contact the outreach team to schedule a meeting or talk about the issue of homelessness in downtown Indy, you can call Wattson and the team at 317-828-9858 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.