By BARBARA ANDERSON
Homelessness in Southern Indiana is real, but it is different from homelessness in Louisville. How? Very simply put: money. It is easy to point fingers and say the folks in Jeffersonville are not as enlightened as Louisvillians. After all for 30 years Louisville has had a Coalition for the Homeless. Also, Louisville has several million dollars to address homelessness because it is an entitlement community. It is much easier to address an issue when you have the resources to do so.
As the Courier-Journal editorial stated, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore was less than tactful when he made the following statement about ending homelessness: “We’re not here to solve the problem,” which appeared in a Courier-Journal story. The editorial hit the nail on the head about homelessness being an issue that precedes this mayor and it will be after this mayor. As the director for the only emergency shelter in a region of several counties (Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Crawford, Scott, Jefferson and many others) let me tell you the reality. The non-entitlement communities of Southern Indiana receive little or no help in actually providing shelter or permanent supportive housing.
The practice of politics has always been rather indifferent to poverty. As a community or a region, New Albany is the only city receiving Community Development Block Grant dollars and it alone budgets for social services with the exception of Harrison (which has boat money) and Scott (which educated itself many years ago and has had a progressive mayor).
As the secretary for the National Coalition for the Homeless and one who has advocated for 30 years it should be noted that Indiana is different from Kentucky. For instance: Kentucky just passed the expansion of Medicaid; Indiana will leave its poor in emergency rooms and without choices. Federal dollars are sought by Kentucky; they are scorned by Indiana. My peers and I have educated, slept on governor’s lawns, tried to initiate action and still we have an uphill battle because poor Hoosiers are expected to “pull themselves up by their boot straps.” Jesus Cares at Exit 0, a volunteer group that helps the homeless, has worked tirelessly for the last four years and many times I have talked with founder Paul Stensrud about not getting discouraged, because poverty is a long-haul issue. He will be here when a new mayor is in office because of the churches. Moore is right about one thing: The community as a whole is responsive and supportive of issues to help the homeless. Political will is driven at the ballot box and too many of our citizens just don't participate.
Moore’s words were callous and irresponsible. It is everyone’s job to end homelessness. It is everyone’s job to feed the hungry. It is everyone’s job to tend to the sick. It is everyone’s job to ensure the safety of the citizenry. No citizen is without some measure of responsibility as long as we are a faith-based society.
I applaud the work of the Louisville Coalition for the Homeless. Out of Jeffersonville's history the Indiana Coalition on Housing and Homeless Issues began; it ended under Mitch Daniels’ administration. We in this state continue to serve with little or no public sector dollars. Last year Haven House Services provided shelter to 1,523 separate individuals from this region. This year, we house between 65 and 70 men, women and children every night. The churches have kept us alive and serving and for that we are eternally grateful, but shelters and tents are not the answer. Permanent affordable housing is. We as a community must plan for that because so far we have not only been remiss but also neglectful.
We have passed ordinances that prohibit affordable apartments; there is no funding for the poor to speak of; and with little or no political will to address the issue we will continue to see an increase in hunger and homelessness. Louisville, with all its funding and all its planning, is still bursting at the seams with new homeless every day.
A compassionate community governs for everyone, not just those who own property, have a roof over their heads or are fully employed. We as a community have much to examine. What needs to be done next and how will we get it done are just a few of the questions. How do we end homelessness? We refuse to let it continue. We build permanent housing, we fund Section 8 vouchers, we demand our legislators stop sequestration, we feed our hungry, we tend to our sick, and for every person who enters homelessness we find housing. You don't do that by closing shelters or by closing exits. You do that by making a firm commitment to the eradication of homelessness in your community. Poverty is painful for all those who live in it and who suffer without resources. Through partnering with nonprofits, churches, the private sector and the public sector we can and will end homelessness. The rest of us have been waiting for the political will to catch up. The ball is in your court now.
— Barbara Anderson, of Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org