JEFFERSONVILLE — Although the sale of Haven House, Southern Indiana's only homeless shelter, is up to a month away, future owners are already laying groundwork to continue and improve services to homeless in the community, including seeking solutions to permanent supportive housing.
In August, current shelter director Barb Anderson and Jim Moon, pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church, announced that the shelter board of directors and the church had entered into an intent-to-sell agreement, with the property to transfer ownership over the coming months.
Moon said Friday he expects the sale to close within the next 30 days, on what will in coming months be renamed Catalyst Rescue Mission. One of the first steps will be to talk with residents, to get a handle on where they're coming from and what their barriers to housing might be.
Then, Moon said, they'll work to see what new partnerships might be able to be formed to assist.
"We have the opportunity to unclog an artery," he said. "The artery is that we have all kinds of systems pushing people toward that shelter and that shelter is over capacity."
Among those at the shelter are people receiving treatment for mental illness, but who have nowhere to live, and those who have recently been released from jail and can't immediately find a place to live due to a criminal conviction. Most of the residents are those who cannot afford housing in the area, even if they work.
"We have a systemic problem as far as the sheltering of human beings is concerned in Southern Indiana," Moon said. "We've got to find suitable housing and advocates for the people that are there, so that we can get a lower manageable number, so we can have beds available for the people who are continually finding themselves forced out and on the street," he said.
Anderson, who helped start the shelter and has run it since 1985, said there were 114 people at the shelter Monday, and that the population hasn't been below 100 for six months. It is built to hold 70 people.
"There are so many issues under one roof," she said. "It's a fishbowl."
Just under half the shelter residents claim Clark County, mostly Jeffersonville, as their place of residence, Anderson said. Slightly over a quarter of those residing in the shelter say they are from New Albany. Around 8 percent claim Louisville as their address, while about 10 percent say they are from other counties in Indiana. The average stay is 26 days.
Anderson said that the shelter, which runs mainly on donations, has received funding from local municipalities in the past in the form of project-based requests on her part — such as approaching a city council for help with bathroom repairs, for instance. Moon said he wants to speak with municipal leaders in Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany in the coming months about securing more regular support for the shelter.
"We all want to keep unsheltered persons from tents and from sleeping on stoops or wherever they can find a heated area," he said. "If that is a goal all three entities have...we're going to have to have support from those municipalities so that the shelter can do the things it needs to do."
A big new piece to finding solutions to homelessness in the area could be through partnerships like the Homelessness Prevention Task Force, which was formed in June by members of multiple community agencies to quickly find housing for 150 people when an extended stay hotel in Clarksville was sold.
Organizations involved included Haven House, Park Memorial United Methodist Church, Community Action of Southern Indiana, Hope Southern Indiana, the Jeffersonville Township Trustee's Office, Exit Zero and others.
Anderson said that in her decades of working with homeless populations in the area, she had "never experienced" what the impromptu group was able to accomplish in just over a month. Some of that involved raising funds to help residents make first month's rent and deposits on apartments, paying off old utility bills, and getting access to resources for certain demographics, such as veterans.
"Everybody was in it for the right reasons," she said of the task force, which is still together. Once the shelter sale is complete, Anderson will stay on to help with the transition before moving toward a more advocate role in the community.
"That's where several of our organizations came together and we were able to find housing for persons in a matter of months," Phil Ellis, executive director of Community Action of Southern Indiana, said of the task force initiative.
He added that the shelter transition and existence of the task force can help residents in new ways.
"I really think that this is going to be an excellent opportunity for the homeless population to be able to access new partnerships...which in turn will be new services they'll be able to receive," he said.
Though the sale price hasn't been finalized, Moon made a downpayment on the property in August, in the form of a $26,000 sewer bill payment the shelter owed to the City of Jeffersonville.