Cruel winter for people living on the streets

(Photo supplied/Indiana News Service)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (Veronica Carter/Indiana News Service) – Cold weather continues to grip much of the Midwest, and thousands of people don’t have a warm place to stay on a regular basis.

The federal government does an annual homeless count each year, and on one night in 2017, it found about 5,500 people on the streets in Indiana.

Owen Davenport, coordinator for Terre Haute’s Lighthouse Mission, says rural areas of the state have fewer options for people who can’t find a place to stay. He points out that most don’t choose to be homeless and many, even though they’re working, are one or two paychecks away from being homeless.

“They’re struggling – trying to pay utilities, pay rent, put food on the table,” Davenport says. “You’ve got to juggle what do you do, and sometimes you have to make the choice to give up everything and go to the shelter if you have to, until you get back on your feet.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported homelessness crept up last year across the nation, especially among individuals experiencing long-term, chronic homelessness.

The good news is that homelessness among families with children has declined more than 5 percent nationwide since 2016.

HUD also awarded more than $19.3 million last year to support 95 housing and service programs for homeless Indiana residents. Davenport says many organizations just provide food and shelter but others, including Lighthouse Mission, try to help people turn their situation around.

“One of the things we do here is when someone is living here and they get a job, we have them turn part of their money in for holding,” he explains. “It’s their money; we don’t keep any of it. We’re just trying to help them build a nest egg so we’re trying to give them an opportunity to save money and get their lives on track.”

In 2017, there were nearly 600 homeless families in Indiana, more than 600 veterans, and nearly 300 people ages 19 to 24 living on the streets. This year’s homeless count took place at the end of January; statistics haven’t yet been released.

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