Volunteers branch out to count the homeless in annual census
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com January 29, 2014 6:44PM
Volunteer Sharon E. Williams discuses the census data collection with the guests at The Bakery House in Gary, IN on January 29, 2014. | Jim Karczewski\for Sun-Times media
Updated: March 3, 2014 4:23PM
LaMar McCloud had been on the streets and dealing drugs since he was 13 years old.
But three months ago — at the age of 36 — his conscience sent him to Brother’s Keeper men’s shelter in Gary.
“I had no other options,” he said. “I think the best place in the world is Brother’s Keeper. I have 20 guys teaching me how to understand life better. I was feisty and got in trouble a lot when I first arrived, but (a fellow resident) told me to stop hanging around the wrong people. They teach me the Bible and its wisdom.”
McCloud is one of a few hundred Northwest Indiana homeless people that volunteers were able to count for the annual Point-in-Time homeless census on Wednesday.
Dozens of volunteers scoured the streets, abandoned buildings and shelters in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago to get an idea of the region’s homeless population.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates the Point-in-Time count over a 24-hour period in late January. The count helps determine how best to allocate money to local agencies for homeless services.
In 2013, 294 individuals were documented as homeless in Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond.
William Gillespie, program manager for Continuum of Care Network of Northwest Indiana, said the count can help link the homeless with necessary services for mental health and substance abuse issues. But the federal sequestration process has forced cuts to many emergency and transitional housing programs — close to 55 percent, Gillespie said.
Gary will see a new transitional housing complex — the Northwest Indiana Veterans Village — open with 44 units for veterans later this year.
With subzero temperatures blanketing the region, area homeless shelters are full, but there’s another largely invisible layer of homeless, who find their own emergency housing in some of the more than 10,000 abandoned buildings in the Gary area. Gillespie said volunteers will search — sometimes in an unmarked police van — for squatters in the evening.
All of the shelters that receive federal, state and local funds must include their homeless residents in the Homeless Management Information System.
It’s a different story for shelters like The Bakery House, located at 4921 Broadway, which is funded solely by donations and through Rebuilding The Breach Ministries Inc.
By mid-morning Wednesday, area homeless packed the front room and were busy chatting before Bible study and lunch. Some of the 21 men who reside in the house were preparing the meal and doing other chores.
In a given month, the Bakery House feeds meals to 135 people and offers food and clothing to 75. About 113 attend Bible study.
Gillespie and other volunteers interviewed homeless people like Glen Ellis, who was released from Westville Correctional Facility in 2009 after serving time for dealing drugs.
“I’ve been here on and off since then,” Ellis said. “I’m a system manager and I try to keep the young guys grounded. We have Bible classes in the mornings and evenings.”
Ellis applies for jobs pretty often online, but he said the felony conviction on his record is a barrier to many employers giving him a second look.
Some homeless people don’t want to be interviewed — “sometimes it’s pride,” Gillespie said — or help at all in some cases.
“We see some of the same people year after year, who we know are homeless, but they just want to do it their way,” Gillespie said.