Picking up the pieces

Reducing homelessness in Johnson County doesn’t have an easy fix.

But a new coordinated community effort to help the poverty stricken has made an immediate impact in only three months.

The No Place to Call Home partnership is already helping 10 households find housing, fix the issues that led to their homelessness and stabilize their lives.

Since the pilot program launched in October, select participants have been referred into the program by social service agencies. They’ve collaborated with case managers to guide them out of homelessness and started making incremental strides to turn around their situation.

Program leaders will continue the initial test phase for at least two more months, with a campaign to enlist more financial and organizational help throughout early 2017. The goal will be to soon expand and offer help to more struggling families.

“It is so exciting, and it feels so good to see things happening, much more than talking and planning and researching. We are helping now,” said David Sever, board president of KIC-IT and a member of the No Place to Call Home steering committee.

This is the first time such a large-scale approach has been taken to the homeless issue in the county, and leaders of the effort wanted to take small steps.

The decision to do a soft-launch in October, taking a limited number of families first, was to ensure that the organizational structure was solid before opening it up community-wide, said Nancy Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

“I think there is a sense of relief that there is an organized effort created to address the homeless problem in Johnson County,” she said. “We’re very excited that we’re ahead of where other efforts have been, and that we’re right on target.”

No Place to Call Home organizers have been working on the initiative for nearly two years. The process started by investigating solutions to the homeless issue and an in-depth report commissioned by the United Way of Johnson County.

Months of meetings with faith-based groups, schools, service agencies and law enforcement went into the research of the problem. Members of the steering committee decided on a coordinated approach, with multiple different agencies working together on the issue.

The program starts with an entry system, identifying and referring people in need of help through partnering sources, such as the United Way Helpline, churches, social agencies and the Franklin Township trustee.

An emphasis is made to find what assistance can be given quickly, including temporary housing. Clients are then referred to a case manager through a network of existing organizations in the county.

Though the homeless issue stretches throughout many facets of the community, No Place to Call Home will target Johnson County residents with a focus on households with children. Potential clients must fall within the poverty threshold, and be either homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Most importantly, they have to have a desire to change their situation and agree to case management.

“That willingness to accept case management is really critical to the process,” Sever said. “You don’t want somebody who just wants some money to get by for a little bit.”

When families are referred to the program, they meet with McAninch to go through a rigorous intake process. The goal is to cover every possible barrier to a client climbing out of poverty.

“The goal is to find out if they’re right for the program, and also to assess what type of case management provider is right, what are their biggest needs,” McAninch said.

No Place to Call Home has recruited case managers from existing social agencies throughout the community, such as KIC-IT, the Children’s Bureau, the Salvation Army and Gateway Services. Community Partners for Child Safety, a program of The Villages, has also signed on to the effort.

Depending on the situation facing each family, they will be directed to the most appropriate agency.

“So far, it’s working very well. All of the case management providers are very engaged, and if they have questions, they ask me. We talk through whatever we need to talk through, and we’ve not had anyone back away from it,” McAninch said.

Thus far, about 20 households have been referred to the program. Funding and resources have limited No Place to Call Home to helping nine of those, McAninch said.

The steering committee has been very careful about not overextending themselves financially until regular funding can be secured. The expectation is that a household is in the program for three to sixth months, Sever said. Strict budgets per month and for each household ensures that No Place to Call Home can maintain its assistance over that time.

“One of the worst thing that could happen is we start helping families, then run out of money in a month,” Sever said.

Financial backing for the program will be central to its success, so a large push is underway to educate and enlist the community about the work being done. No Place to Call Home is being funded by a series of United Way grants, as well as allocations from the United Way and donations from the faith-based community.

But continued support from area churches and organizations will be vital moving forward.

Representatives have had a series of large meetings and fundraising events at Bluff Creek Christian Church in the Center Grove area, Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin and Greenwood Christian Church.

Churches and faith-based groups contribute a majority of the existing funds to fighting homelessness. Those groups currently spend $131,777 per year.

“We’d like to have the faith-based community to take some of the money that they use for emergency assistance, and move that to the No Place to Call Home,” Plake said. “The meetings have been informative, we’ve gotten some pledges from those meetings, but we know now that, like any fundraising effort, we have to cultivate it.”

Throughout January, leaders will conduct one-on-one meetings with different faith-based groups to further explain their vision and the results of the program so far. The goal is to have those groups contribute $120,000 this year, Plake said.

“We’ve talked about the amount of money that various faith-based organizations are putting into this, without being able to show any results. Our hope is that we can get part of that to funnel into this program,” said Paul Gabriel, chief financial officer for Center Grove schools and member of the No Place to Call Home steering committee.

The United Way of Johnson County is also tying its annual giving campaign this year to the No Place to Call Home effort.

The agency has received $143,600 in financial assistance through the UnitedIN16 grant. Written into the grant are stipulations tying matching funds to increases in employee contributions and corporate gifts, Plake said. Any new employee campaigns started will be matched dollar-for-dollar. If corporate giving is increased by 5 percent, the United Way will match that, and any new corporate gift will be matched, Plake said.

Moving forward, organizers want to find specific agencies dedicated to the issues of domestic violence, substance abuse and particularly mental health. The goal is to have those arrangements formalized in early 2017.

The case management and the funding situation will dictate when No Place to Call Home expands to include more households, Plake said.

“There are lots of moving parts here. It’s not just a simple matter of agreeing to case management. It’s training people, figuring out how many cases they’re going to take, things like that,” Plake said. “There’s a lot of work still to do.”

At a glance

No Place to Call Home

What: A coordinated partnership to end homelessness, spearheaded through the United Way of Johnson County

Started accepting limited number of clients: October 2016

Total number of households in the program: 10

October: 5 households

November: 2 households

December: 3 households

Total number of people being served: 38

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.