VOL 1, NO 6
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
PROBLEM: An increasing number of people in Central Indiana have inadequate
or no housing.
SOLUTION: Congregations are working together and with other organizations
to devise programs to address housing needs.
Carmen Jordan was working at a fast food restaurant
in Indianapolis, earning $5.75 per hour and paying $400 a month rent on a house
where she lived with her teenage son and daughter. The job barely paid enough
to cover basic household expenses. She was expecting a promotion, but when she
was passed over she quit to find better work elsewhere. Before she could find
another job, she fell behind in the rent, and was evicted. Suddenly, the Jordans
The homeless are transient and difficult to count,
but on any given night in America perhaps 700,000 people are without permanent
shelter. In Indianapolis alone, nearly 3,500 people are homeless. Advocates
for the homeless estimate that their numbers are growing by about 5 percent
per year. In some urban areas, the number of shelter beds occupied by the homeless
has quadrupled over the past two decades.
A major cause of homelessness is a shortage of
affordable housing. Twenty years ago, according to the National Coalition for
the Homeless, "there were twice as many affordable housing units available
as there were low income households. Today, there are almost twice as many low
income households as there are affordable housing units." The situation
has been compared to a game of musical chairs where at the end of each round,
inevitably, some people are left without a place to sit.
Contrary to the stereotype of derelicts living
permanently on the streets, the majority of homeless people fall into the condition
suddenly and climb out of it fairly quickly. Estimates are that 2,000,000 Americans
will be homeless at some point during a given year; 12,000,000 have been homeless
(i.e., living in a shelter or on the streets) at some point in their lives.
Income obviously is an important factor. While
the total number of people living below the poverty line has remained fairly
stable, the number of extremely poor has increased significantly. Working even
full-time is no guarantee against homelessness. Twenty percent of homeless people
are employed. Based on its analysis of government income and housing data, the
National Low Income Housing Coalition has stated that "in no local jurisdiction
in the United States can a full time minimum-wage worker afford the fair market
rent for a one-bedroom unit in their community."
In Indianapolis, a person working full-time would
have to earn at least $8.71 per hour to reasonably afford a one-bedroom apartment
at fair market rent. A two-bedroom apartment would require earnings of $10.48
per hour. Forty percent of the homeless are families with children.
For many, the problem goes beyond economics.
Perhaps a third of the homeless have chronic substance abuse problems. Almost
as many – and the two categories overlap considerably – suffer from mental illness.
Many will require long-term support – medical, legal, child care, education,
job training – to help them get back on their feet and stay there. Such services,
along with a living wage and affordable housing, are important factors in ending
For one Indianapolis family, it took months for
all of the relevant factors to be addressed, but in the end they were not only
housed, but in the process of becoming homeowners.
FAITH-BASED PROGRAMS IN INDIANAPOLIS
For all homeless people, the immediate, pressing
need is for a place to spend the night. This was the situation facing Carmen
Jordan and her children the day they were evicted. Jordan was fortunate to find
referral to perhaps the one organization that could help them immediately. In
Indiana, the township trustee is responsible for the welfare of indigents. She
went to her township trustee, who referred her to the Interfaith Hospitality
Interfaith Hospitality Network
A national organization of religious congregations,
Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is devoted to providing shelter to homeless
families. In Indianapolis, there are currently 24 congregations participating
in the program as hosts, and others that provide volunteers to hosting congregations.
Each congregation serves as host for between three and six weeks per year, for
a week at a time. Members pick up the families, fix and share dinner with them
and set up rooms, usually in the congregation’s facilities, for them to sleep
in. In the morning, the host congregation fixes breakfast and a sack lunch for
the guests to take with them to the day center, work, or whatever educational
program they might be involved with. IHN provides vans, cots and training to
volunteers. Each congregation has one or more volunteer coordinators who oversee
the program. Some congregations participate by providing volunteers who help
a host congregation. For example, Shalom Mennonite and Witherspoon Presbyterian
Churches each provide volunteers to cover a night at First Mennonite Church,
and members from Crooked Creek Baptist Church help out at Faith United Methodist
During the day, IHN’s guests (as they are called)
go to a day center, located at Central United Methodist Church. The day center
is staffed by two social workers who provide case management services to help
guests to find the support they need to change their situation. Each new family
meets with a social worker and together they develop at 30-day "contract"
or plan to work toward. If the guest family is working in good faith to improve
their situation, the period can be extended if necessary.
When Carmen Jordan became a guest of IHN, she
got a referral to an educational program, hoping to learn construction and maintenance.
Her first assignment was a job at the fair grounds shoveling horse manure. She
thinks now that this was a test of her commitment and willingness to work. She
got into a program where she studied carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical
work. She particularly enjoyed working at construction projects. "I loved
it," she said, "I was there bright and early every morning."
The construction program took three months; Jordan
graduated second in her class. But she wasn’t ready to leave IHN yet. IHN staff
started teasing her about holding the record for the longest stay. Jordan wanted
to make sure that she’d never be in this position again. Lacking a high school
diploma, she took the GED test and passed it. She found a job at the Blue Triangle,
a residence hall for homeless and at-risk adults. There she works full-time
doing building maintenance and covering the reception desk at night. She and
her children moved out of IHN and into a rental unit – and eventually into their
Habitat for Humanity
When Jordan gave a presentation at a suburban
church on behalf of IHN, it turned out that the church was also involved in
Habitat for Humanity. Jordan had earlier applied to Habitat for Humanity for
a home, but was turned down because she was in school and not working at a regular
job. Soon Jordan found herself approved for a Habitat home, and a while later,
construction on the house began.
Habitat for Humanity is probably the best known
of the organizations addressing the housing problem. Habitat is an expressly
Christian organization, but an ecumenical one. According to Diana Rice-Wilkerson,
executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis, its mission
is to make decent, affordable homes available for ownership to limited income
families. Habitat partners with corporations and foundations, but each home
construction project – Habitat calls it a "build" – includes at least
A Habitat build actually requires four different
types of partners. One of these is the Family Partner. Habitat does not give
away houses. Each adult member of the household must provide 175 hours of work
equity, including classes and time spent building houses (both their own house
and other builds.) This serves as the down payment on the home. The family also
commits to a mortgage to pay for the house. However, the mortgage is interest-free,
and the purchase price is low (currently $48,000 for a three-bedroom home in
Indianapolis.) Families must have a steady income of 30 to 50 percent of the
"area median income," and a reasonable credit and rental history for
the past two years. For a while, Habitat found it harder to find people who
could meet all of their criteria than it was to find groups willing to build
houses. Because they are privately funded, they can sometimes make exceptions
to their criteria, as in the case of Carmen Jordan’s family.
The second partner in a Habitat build is the
Adopt-a-House Sponsor. This can be a church, a group of churches, a corporation,
or foundation. The sponsors provide $50,000 toward the cost of the house, and
the volunteers to build it. The third partner in the build, the Church Partner,
may or may not be the same as the Adopt-a-House Sponsor. The Church Partner
prays for the build, feeds the workers, and facilitates the dedication ceremony.
The fourth partner, the Builder Partner, is a construction company that provides
expertise in building houses.
Habitat staff provides assistance to families
for three to five years after they move into their new home, in case they run
into any problems along the way.
Eastern Star Church/ Beechwood Gardens Transitional Living Program
Eastern Star Church is the largest congregation
in Greater Indianapolis. Its building houses, among other things, a school and
a bookstore. Eastern Star has over 28 ministries serving both members and the
community. Its 12,000 members include a number of qualified human service professionals.
The Beechwood Gardens Community is located across
30th Street from Eastern Star. This community of subsidized apartments is owned
and operated by the Indianapolis Housing Agency. IHA has agreed to let Eastern
Star renovate and use one of the apartment buildings for its program. Eastern
Star plans to place a homeless family in each unit. Each family will be assigned
a case manager and a family mentor. An individualized plan will be developed
for each family, addressing factors that led to their being homeless. There
will be required classes in life skills, budgeting, parenting, and nutrition.
The first family moved into the Beechwood Gardens Transitional Living Program
in September, 1999.
Metro Church/ ROAR Program
Metro Church created the Reach Out and Restore
(ROAR) Community Development Center as a separate corporation to facilitate
its outreach activities. ROAR uses Metro Church’s building for its ministries.
It also shares staff, including Lynda Kosh who is both executive director for
ROAR and worship director for Metro Church.
In contrast to Eastern Star, Metro Church has
a much smaller pool of volunteers; attendance at Sunday services averages 125.
The ROAR program does have experience in employment and life skills training,
and ROAR has partnered with a number of organizations to provide the expertise
that it lacks in-house. Children in ROAR’s transitional program can participate
in a daycare program operated by the Christian Faith Center. Another organization,
Universal Behavioral Services, will provide assistance with client psychiatric
problems, if needed.
All Saints Episcopal Church/ Dayspring Center
In the early 1980s All Saints Episcopal Church
began allowing homeless people to sleep in the pews and aisles of their sanctuary.
Eventually, the program acquired space adjacent to the church building, and
evolved into a separately incorporated organization, Dayspring Center, which
provides a 24-hour shelter, with services, for families.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
St. Mark's in Plainfield also operates a small
shelter in its building. It has three designated rooms available as living quarters,
and a common area with a refrigerator, microwave, storage, a sink and a television.
The congregation serves individuals as well as families, and can accommodate
a maximum of 12 people per night. About a seventh of the church’s operating
budget goes to support this ministry. It also gets support from the diocese
and from other local churches and organizations. The congregation has a food
pantry and "Next to New" clothing shop, and a parish nurse, Carolyn
Tungate, who is available for information and referrals. As is IHN, St. Mark’s
is reluctant to shelter victims of domestic violence, because the church is
not secure enough to assure safety.
ARE CONGREGATIONS THE ANSWER?
Nationally, there is growing interest in using
congregations to provide human services. In Indianapolis, funds are made available
to demonstration projects developed by congregations and their partners. Lilly
Endowment supports the Congregations as Partners project, which is managed by
the Indianapolis Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention (CHIP).
According to Dan Shepley, executive director of CHIP, some observers question
how effective congregations will be in providing homeless services, but he is
"very, very encouraged" by the results so far. The programs operated
by Eastern Star and Metro Churches receive support through the Congregations
as Partners project.
The number of people being served by congregations
through their shelter and housing programs is only a fraction of the number
of people in need. While congregations are good at establishing one-on-one relationships,
traditional social service providers have a decided advantage in expertise and
Mark St. John, executive director of the Indiana
Coalition on Housing & Homeless Issues, feels that congregations are particularly
well positioned to offer the homeless "a sense of spirit and uplift"
in a way government and other secular organizations are not. At the same time
he cautions congregations to not duplicate services that already exist.
Accountability becomes an issue when congregations
accept outside funding. Will funders give them money "to do good works,"
St. John says, or will they expect congregations to produce measurable outcomes?
Religious organizations such as Catholic Social Services and the Salvation Army
certainly have the experience and administrative capacity to operate social
outreach programs. Small individual congregations may find the bureaucratic
requirements of tracking expenditures and measuring results beyond their capacity.
For each of the congregations discussed here,
shelter-related services are only part of a larger commitment to serving the
community. Even for those experienced in social service provision, however,
working with the homeless can be particularly challenging.
In addition to poverty, the homeless often have
difficult personal problems, and some congregation members may find their presence
disruptive. There are practical issues to address. For example, a congregation
providing shelter would do well to have someone living nearby to handle emergencies,
such as checking people in outside of business hours. Programs require adequate
and appropriate space and facilities such as showers.
Congregations may have reservations about another
organization sending mailings to their members, especially if the mailing contains
a request for contributions. The Interfaith Hospitality Network, for example,
refrains from mailing its newsletter to members of participating congregations.
A separate corporation can be useful in facilitating inter-congregational partnerships,
to keep partnership finances separate from congregational finances.
A. Thomas Hill, Associate Pastor of Outreach
& Foreign Missions at Eastern Star, says it takes time for congregations
to build relationships with those they are trying to help. "But you can’t
do that from a distance, you need to be close-up. If you’re not ready to give
the time," he adds, "don’t try to do the project."
HOUSING & HOMELESS INDEX
Number of houses built by Habitat of
Humanity of Greater Indianapolis since
its founding in 1987 (as of September 1999):
Number of homeless persons served by
Interfaith Hospitality Network in 1998:
Number of persons expected to be served by
Beechwood Gardens Transitional Living
Program in the next three years: 60 people
Number of persons expected to be served by
the ROAR transitional housing project in next
three years: 15 adults plus children
Indianapolis City calculation of additional
affordable rental units needed to house
extremely low income residents: 8,764 units
Indianapolis City estimate of the number of
households that are considered "threatened
with homelessness" by HUD standards because
their income is so low and their housing
expenses are so high: 19,500 households
Estimated Indianapolis homeless population,
September 28, 1993 count: 1,589 people
Estimated Indianapolis homeless population,
April 26, 1999 count: 3,488 people
POINTS TO REMEMBER:
- Partnerships with other congregations and secular partners may help to distribute
the workload and provide resources or skills that are not available within
a congregation. Work to build trust.
- Commitment to community ministry, more than size or resources, determines
whether a congregation engages in housing and homeless ministries.
- How money is handled can complicate partnerships.
- Currently, congregation-based programs are only able to help a small percentage
of those in need, but there is increased interest in the public sector for
helping congregations in their efforts to serve homeless and inadequately
CONTACTS & RESOURCES:
Interfaith Hospitality Network
520 East 12th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis
P.O. Box 1252
Indianapolis, IN 46206
Habitat organizations are organized by county. Those living outside of Marion
County should contact their local chapter.
Coalition for Homeless Intervention & Prevention (CHIP)
960 East Washington; #200
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Eastern Star Church
5750 E 30th St.
Indianapolis IN 46218
5815 E 42nd St.
Indianapolis IN 46226
National Interfaith Hospitality Network
120 Morris Avenue
Summit, NJ 07901
Educational Resources on the Internet
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Low Income Housing Coalition