What’s the state of homelessness in Fort Wayne? The short answer is: It depends on who you ask.
The narrative, which is framed by both anecdotal accounts and data, is shaped by government agencies and grassroots organizations who provide a safe haven for the homeless.
Just Neighbor's executive director Joshua Gale
Rev. Joshua Gale is the executive director of Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network
, an emergency shelter designed to provide temporary housing for homeless families in Fort Wayne. He says that, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s most recent data
, family homelessness in Indiana decreased by double digits
based on the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count.
According to its website
, HUD requires that "Continuums of Care (CoCs) conduct an annual count of homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night in January. CoCs also must conduct a count of unsheltered homeless persons every other year (odd numbered years). Each count is planned, coordinated, and carried out locally."
But if you ask Gale, the data doesn’t jive with his experience. That’s because HUD defines family homelessness differently than other organizations, his included. The situation is much more dire than the federal government reports, in his estimation.
The numbers speak for themselves. He says in 2017, Just Neighbors received more than 700 calls for assistance, while in 2018 that number rose to almost 1,000. In simple terms, family homelessness is on the rise.
“It's the same (narrative) that tells us we’re (a good city for) affordable housing, but it depends on who you ask,” he says. (According to Realtor.com
, the median list price for a home in the area is $180,000).
Family homelessness is compounded by isolation, of sorts, Gale says. In his words, that’s the “core issue.”
He cites an example of a country like Peru—where he once lived—as a contrast. Even though many people live in poverty in Peru, there is still a high level of connectedness. Families take care of each other and can rely on what he calls a “social safety net.”
Homelessness affects children disproportionately.
In the United States, the culture is much different, which can only compound the problem for families that are already struggling.
“When we think of homeless families, there’s a disconnect from things like healthcare, jobs, social services, etc.,” he says. “As the economy changes, that disconnect gets more pronounced.”
Another factor is that wages haven’t kept up with the increasing cost of living, he adds, which means working families are closer to the edge.
“When you look at the family unit itself, it’s likely they’re employed, but it’s a disconnect that’s going to move them into homelessness,” he says.
Public perception doesn’t help the situation either. Many hold an image of a mentally ill or addicted man on the street in their mind as the face of homelessness, Gale says. But that profile is actually the exception to the rule. Homelessness affects children disproportionately.
“There’s a high chance that a homeless person is a kid,” he explains.
Speaking of children, Pastor Diane Elwood has plans for a temporary shelter on the Southeast side of Fort Wayne that would accommodate women and children while providing a much-needed service to the community.
She’s in the process of purchasing a 26,000-square foot building at 2440 Bowser Ave., across from the Renaissance Pointe YMCA. She has plans to convert the property into apartments and an on-site daycare open to the public. The shelter will be under the auspices of Temporary Home Ministries
, a nonprofit organization.
Elwood plans to purchase an existing building at 2440 Bowser Ave. and convert it into a homeless shelter for women.
Elwood says her plans are strategic on multiple levels. The current reality is local shelters housing women and children are usually at capacity. The Rescue Ministries' Charis House
is no exception, she says.
Women are turned away quite often, and she also wants to reach an especially vulnerable population: Pregnant women who may feel scared about the future.
“The message is that if they’re in a desperate situation, there are other options besides abortion,” she says.
Elwood wants the shelter to be both a place of refuge and personal development for adult women with and without children. Women will have access to resources like parenting classes, GED classes, and healthcare, while focusing on employment and cooking skills as they work on transitioning to a home of their own.
Women and their children may stay up to 18 months, and they’ll be supported for some time after they move out, too. While a resident, they will be required to volunteer at the daycare center.
Elwood is especially excited about this point of difference. The daycare will serve as both a social enterprise and training ground for aspiring early childhood workers and educators. The 24-hour nature means they can cater to parents who work nontraditional hours. She says they are going to accept childcare vouchers, thus, making high-quality childcare more affordable for working families.
In the end, it’s another way to strengthen the community as a whole.
Elwood hopes to be operational by the end of the year. In the meantime, you may follow her progress on the website for Temporary Home Ministries.