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Housing Solutions for the Homeless Helps Our Economic Future

Maria Weir | Published on 9/11/2021

What a surprise, locals might have thought when the Census Bureau confirmed in August that there is a shortage of housing units in Crawfordsville. Home buyers heard of people offering cash and foregoing home inspections. Local social media groups traded advice on how to find safe, affordable rental units while the complexes seemed to waitlist prospective tenants. At the bottom of the pecking order have been the vulnerable populations, the homeless, seniors, those with a record, and young renters. Housing is in a crunch, and without more developers and updated strategies, it will remain intensely competitive.

Over the next few weeks, the League of Women Voters is turning to the housing issue, exploring the realities of the housing conundrum as it affects varied populations.

In a crisis, the vulnerable tend to suffer first, and often most. In January 2020, just before the pandemic exploded across the US, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that Indiana had over 5,600 homeless adults and 18,000 homeless children. While we might visualize homelessness as tent cities, people sleeping on benches, squatting in unused buildings, lining up for shelters, and sleeping in cars, it often is disguised. By definition, homelessness includes the former, as well as transitional housing, long-term shelters, doubling up with family, couch surfing, children awaiting foster care placement, and living in motels or hotels. That’s why it’s hard to pin an accurate count of Montgomery County’s homeless population. 

The staff at Pam’s Promise know it’s here. The churches and organizations who support Pam’s Promise, transitional housing for women and sometimes their children, know it’s present.

Pam’s Promise launched its program formally in 2019, but the pandemic that shut down the community in March 2020 also shut down most of Pam’s Promise’s work. When COVID cases declined, their work resumed. Volunteers from several churches rehabilitated one of their handful of houses, and they started accepting women again. 

 During the shutdown, Pam’s Promise could not accept new residents, though they consistently received almost ten to twelve calls a month from relatives of or individuals seeking shelter, said Elizabeth Zuk, the Social Services Director for the organization. The calls requested housing for men and women. Unfortunately, the organization does not have the resources to house men, leaving a huge gap in the community. Also, it is not an emergency shelter, unlike another option locally, the Family Crisis Shelter, which is reserved for domestic abuse victims. Two further options serve recovering addicts, Trinity Mission for men and the Half Way Home for women.

With limited space to offer to women, Pam’s Promise cannot accept all the women who need housing, and as a transitional program, it cannot always place women fast enough. Coming into the program, women are often escaping unsafe housing, where they are at risk of addiction, relapse, or assault. Pam’s Promise requires women to apply, agree to a background check, and follow the house rules. No active use of illegal substances, no alcohol on the premises, and no recent convictions for battery. These rules protect against further conflict and trauma for fellow residents. 

Transitional housing can be a great solution for women as they rebuild their rental histories, stay sober, maintain employment, and put distance between their past and the present, but the program lasts only for about six months. At three months, the organization helps women begin looking for housing. 

At times, clients face hostile rental management companies who refuse a fresh start to those with prior convictions or a poor rental history. With recent shortages, women have applied for extensions to remain in the program. 

What can be done for local unhomed or at-risk men, women and children? Zuk said that Pam’s Promise itself needs more homes, monetary donations, and donations of cleaning and hygiene supplies. While she couldn’t say how the city can find its way out of the housing crisis for homeless women, men, and children, she did note that we could use a men’s housing program and more affordable rental units with management that gives people a chance to make a fresh start. 

The US Interagency Council on Homelessness reported in 2019 that affordable housing drastically reduces homelessness, improves educational outcomes for youth, and increases mental health. The agency published a brief in May 2019 that reported, “Educational outcomes for children are also improved with housing stability; young people in stable housing are less likely to repeat a grade and less likely to drop out of school. Ultimately, the lack of stable housing has long-lasting effects that can impact health, education, and employment throughout people’s lives and in future generations.”

In short, our community should put affordable housing for low-income and at-risk citizens on par with good schools, attracting educated, middle-class residents, and building single family homes.