Serving Monroe, Owen, and Greene Counties

Homelessness: Unpacking the Point in Time Count

Bright and early on the morning of September 12, over 40 community members gathered to unpack the point in time count of homelessness in the Monroe County community and across the nation. 
“We’re going to be talking about a lot of numbers today, and behind each number is a human person,” Executive Director of Shalom Community Center Rev. Forrest Gilmore said before beginning his presentation. “It’s important that we remember the human entity behind the numbers.” 
The point in time count is a national effort to get as complete a count of individuals experiencing homelessness as possible on one day, usually sometime in January. But Gilmore noted to the crowd that this number will never be complete due to communities that can’t or don’t participate, individuals that do not wish to be counted, or individuals that are missed in the count. It also only reflects numbers for one day, and it does not show how homelessness fluctuates throughout the year.  
“These are very difficult things to count,” Gilmore said. 
Despite these complications, the point in time count is valuable to understanding trends in homelessness, both nationally and here in Monroe County. 
The presentation began with national trends, showing that homelessness overall had been decreasing since 2007, but has stalled and slightly increased in the past few years. The count reported that the number of sheltered homeless remained around the same, and it was the number of unsheltered homeless that has dropped. The total number of individuals experiencing homelessness across the nation in 2018 was reported as 194,467. 
Gilmore explained that the investment in Housing First programs under the Bush administration, and the continuation of these programs during the Obama administration contributed to this drop. He theorizes that the numbers are stalling because the programs are running out of resources. 
The number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Indiana, excluding Indianapolis, was reported as 3,904 for 2019. That is a 9 percent increase from 2018, according to Gilmore. 
The point in time count for Monroe county in 2019 was reported as 380. Over the past decade, the numbers show a steady increase. 
“The numbers are hard to look at, I think,” Gilmore said. “They’re painful to see and to recognize and to acknowledge.” 
Family homelessness in Monroe County, which is usually only counted through the shelter system, has fluctuated slightly above and below the same line. The count for 2019 was 133, a slight increase from the 2018 number of 128. 
The count of single adults experiencing homelessness in Monroe County was 243 for 2019. This is an 11 percent increase from 2018, according to Gilmore, accounting for most of the county’s overall increase. 
Chronic homelessness trends were also reported. Chronically homeless people are those with disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness, Gilmore explained. 
“They generally don’t escape homelessness without assistance,” Gilmore said. “Without help, they generally die on the streets. Without assistance, the average age of death of a chronically homeless person is 47 years old.” 
The count of chronically homeless individuals in Monroe County dropped from 63 in 2017 to 31 in 2018 as a direct result of the opening of Crawford II apartments, permanent housing for the chronically homeless. The count rose to 46 in 2019.  
“I would love to give you different numbers,” Gilmore said. “But I sadly can’t, so I’m going to be honest about the numbers and honest about what’s in front of us.” 
When looking at these trends, Gilmore said it’s hard to know exactly what is causing numbers to rise. He pointed out things in our community like rising population, rising poverty, dropping homeownership, and rural poverty that may contribute to these rising numbers. 
Gilmore said that while the community is facing issues like affordable housing and poverty, issues from other parts of the state may cause people to come here for resources. 
“I think we are a generous community,” he said. “We’re a community that opens itself to others, that gives to people, that cares about people.” 
Gilmore concluded his thoughts by speaking on the marginalization faced by the homeless community. 
“They’re a group that’s often demonized, often categorized, often stereotyped,” he said. “What we’re seeing in this country is a growing marginalization of the other.” 
After opening the floor to questions from the audience, the crowd shared and discussed issues like emergency shelter, Housing First programs, state efforts to fight homelessness, homelessness in surrounding counties, and rising housing application fees.  
During this discussion, Gilmore stressed the importance and effectiveness of Housing First programs.  
“Shelter is extraordinarily important to that person walking on the street with nowhere to go, but it is not necessarily a solution,” he said. “We don’t want them to walk in the doors of a shelter, we want them to walk in the doors of a home.” 
When asked about homeless individuals that seem to be “incorrigible,” Gilmore said, “I don’t believe in incorrigibility.” 
He explained that many people experiencing homelessness have experienced childhood trauma that has affected them into adulthood. Each person with experiences like these has unique needs and challenges. 
“The resources need to fit people’s challenges,” Gilmore said. “And if we’re not fitting people’s challenges, we’re doing it wrong.” 
Want to learn more about topics discussed related to homelessness? Check out these links to learn more in-depth info.
Session Handouts
The next Wake Up! with United Way breakfast panel will examine “The Work Ahead: United Way's Advocacy Agenda 2020” Thursday, October 10 at The Mill (642 N Madison St.) 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.
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