What a surprise, residents thought when the Census Bureau confirmed in August that there was a housing shortage in Crawfordsville. Homebuyers have heard of people offering cash and forgoing home inspections. Local social media groups exchanged tips on how to find safe and affordable rental housing as complexes appeared to put potential tenants on a waiting list. At the bottom of the hierarchy are vulnerable populations, the homeless, the elderly, people with criminal records and young tenants. Housing is in crisis, and without more developers and updated strategies, it will remain intensely competitive.
Over the next few weeks, the League of Voters will be addressing the issue of housing, exploring the realities of the housing conundrum as it affects diverse populations.
In a crisis, vulnerable people tend to suffer first, and often the most. In January 2020, just before the pandemic exploded in the United States, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that Indiana had more than 5,600 homeless adults and 18,000 homeless children. While we can visualize homelessness as tent cities, people sleeping on benches, crouching in unused buildings, queuing for shelters, and sleeping in cars, it is often in disguise. By definition, homelessness includes the former, as well as transitional housing, long-term shelters, doubling up with family, couch surfing, children awaiting foster care and living in motels or hotels. This is why it is difficult to come up with an accurate count of the homeless population in Montgomery County.
The staff at Pam’s Promise know it’s here. The churches and organizations that support Pam’s Promise, transitional housing for women and sometimes their children, know she is there.
Pam’s Promise officially launched its program in 2019, but the pandemic that shut down the community in March 2020 also ended most of Pam’s Promise’s work. When COVID cases declined, their work resumed. Volunteers from several churches rehabilitated one of their few houses and started accepting women again.
During the closure, Pam’s Promise was unable to accept new residents, although they routinely receive nearly 10 to 12 calls per month from parents or people seeking shelter, said Elizabeth Zuk, director of social services at the ‘organization. The calls requested housing for men and women. Unfortunately, the organization does not have the resources to house the men, leaving a huge void in the community. In addition, it is not an emergency shelter, unlike another local option, the Family Crisis Shelter, which is reserved for victims of domestic violence. Two other options serve recovering addicts, Trinity Mission for men and Half Way Home for women.
With limited space to offer women, Pam’s Promise cannot accept all women in need of housing, and as a bridging program it cannot always place women quickly enough. When entering the program, women often escape from unsafe housing, where they are at risk for substance abuse, relapse or assault. Pam’s Promise requires women to apply, agree to a background check, and follow house rules. No active use of illegal substances, no alcohol on the premises and no recent assault and battery convictions. These rules protect against further conflict and trauma for other residents.
Transitional housing can be a great solution for women as they rebuild their rental history, stay sober, keep their jobs, and distance their past from the present, but the program only lasts about six months. At three months, the organization helps women start looking for housing.
Sometimes clients face hostile rental management companies that deny a fresh start to those with previous beliefs or a bad rental history. With the recent shortages, the women have requested extensions to stay in the program.
What can be done for homeless or at risk men, women and children? Zuk said Pam’s Promise herself needed more homes, monetary donations, and donations of cleaning and hygiene supplies. While she couldn’t say how the city can get out of the housing crisis for homeless women, men and children, she noted that we could use a men’s housing program and more affordable rental housing with it. management that gives people a chance to make a fresh start.
The US Interagency Council on Homelessness reported in 2019 that affordable housing dramatically reduces homelessness, improves educational outcomes for young people, and increases mental health. The agency released a brief in May 2019 which stated: “Children’s educational outcomes are also improved with housing stability; young people in stable housing are less likely to repeat a year and less likely to drop out of school. Ultimately, the lack of stable housing has lasting effects that can impact health, education and employment throughout the lives of people and future generations.
In short, our community should put affordable housing for low-income and at-risk citizens on a par with good schools, attract educated middle-class residents, and build single-family homes.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder organization, promotes informed and active participation in government, strives to increase public understanding of key political issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where practical work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For more information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.