Serving Monroe, Owen, and Greene Counties

“Evicted! Poverty, Policy, and the Law" Examined at Wake Up!

Community members were up bright and early to learn more about the topic “Evicted! Poverty, Policy, and the Law” during the second monthly “Wake Up! with United Way” breakfast panel. The crowd of more than 40 attendees gathered at The Mill on Thursday, May 9th to hear from panelists Marcy Wenzler from the Housing Law Center at Indiana Legal Services, Sarah Boomsma from the Bloomington Housing Authority, and Sandi Clothier, from Monroe County United Ministries.

Mark Fraley with the Indiana University’s Political and Civic Engagement (PACE) moderated the discussion and posed a wide range of questions from the audience to the panelists. Several elected officials and experienced urban planners in attendance were invited to weigh in on policy and advocacy perspectives.  

“Most of the people I see are living day-to-day” said Sandy Clothier, a Self-Sufficient Coach with Monroe County United Ministries. “They’re in situations where anything at all can cause them to become homeless.” Someone may have a job, but also has a medical condition which leads to a surgery and an extended absence from work. Even though safety net services are in place, long-term support may not be available, and this spiral can lead to a person being evicted. Clothier continued, “We are constantly doing patchwork to try and get people back to where they are just barely surviving --- but they’re not thriving.”

“We’re talking about the unraveling of people with that experience,” added Marcy Wenzler from the Housing Law Center at Indiana Legal Services Marcy continued, “There are a lot of myths out there. One of the most predominant ones is that people think if their place isn’t habitable or the landlord isn’t making repairs that they can withhold their rent. Indiana does not have a statute that allows that or allows for repair and deduct. Many states do have this and it would be good for Indiana to have some mechanism because that’s often how people get into the eviction process.”   

At Bloomington Housing Authority (BHA), Panelist Sarah Boomsma, Assistant Property Manager spoke in-depth about housing assistance available, misconception of eligibility for public housing, and the efforts they take to help people get in and stay in housing. “We try to intervene before eviction, working with people on payment agreements, working with local agencies -- like Township Trustees, Shalom Community Center, MCUM, and St. Vincent DePaul -- to help with services, and we have a resident coordinator who works with tenants to help them from becoming homeless.”

Boomsma also shared her personal experience, “I grew up in affordable housing. We were always moving around; I was always the new kid. It causes problems, anxiety, depression. I lived in public housing as an adult, got behind in my rent, was about to be evicted, went to the Trustee for help. They sent me to the Housing Authority to do volunteer work and that’s how I got my job. So things can change!”

This hopeful sentiment was expressed by many of the panelists and, though the subject was somber, the discourse was lively. Marcy Wenzler spoke about a promising development with small claims judges convening eviction-avoidance working groups that include township trustees, mediators, and other agencies. Additionally, state legislators recently passed a bill for homeless youth providing more tools for them to access identification, driver licenses, and other crucial documents.

The speakers encouraged anyone who thinks they may be facing eviction or having tenant/landlord issues to seek help as early as possible. Community members needing help are encouraged to call 2-1-1 to talk with a certified information and referral specialist. Additionally, anyone interested in obtaining public housing assistance or Section 8 is encouraged to apply at The Section 8 waitlist opens online June 4 at Noon

As the event closed, panelists encouraged attendees to consider the impacts of poverty on the brain – especially the trauma of eviction and instability on young people -- and that eviction is not just a consequence of poverty, but a cause of poverty.

The next Wake Up! with United Way breakfast panel will take place on Thursday, June 13th at The Mill on the topic of "Disability Inclusivity in the Workplace" where attendees will hear from a panel of advocates on how we can all consider not only our work environment, but other spaces, through a more inclusive lens. Tickets and more info here >>

Wake Up! with United Way is a collaborative project of United Way of Monroe County and Indiana University's Political and Civic Engagement Program, with thanks to Old National Bank for series support. 

Session handouts:
Bloomington Housing Authority:

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