Initiative targets help for homeless

Housing seen as foundation to recovery for those struggling with poverty

Drug addiction, unemployment or untreated mental health problems can work together to drag people into homelessness.

In order to pull themselves out of poverty, those issues need to be handled by professionals. But doing so can be impossible if a person doesn’t have a place to live while getting better.

“You can’t treat the problem until you have housing. They will never get the support they need to fix those things in other areas of their lives if they don’t get stable housing,” said Mark Lindenlaub, executive director of Thrive Alliance, an affordable housing organization.

A new initiative to combat long-term homelessness takes aim at that root problem. Thrive Alliance is teaming with Centerstone, a nonprofit group focused on behavioral health, to provide secure, stable housing to the long-term homeless. The project will benefit seven counties in the region, including Johnson County.

After receiving intensive training, the team will receive public and private funding to establish supportive housing and a system of getting people into the units.

Homeless individuals in the region will have a stable place to live while receiving job counseling, mental health services and addiction treatment.

“It’s a permanent solution to homelessness that reduces the use of emergency medical services, emergency shelter use and recidivism, while really reducing cost and improving lives to build a healthier community,” said Wayne Fancher, assistant manager of supportive housing services for Centerstone.

Supportive housing helps the homeless break the cycle of over-relying on crisis services, Fancher said. The increasing number of people turning to hospitals, detox centers, jails and other public institutions when they have no other options has become a troubling burden, he said.

In 2013, the University of Southern Indiana’s Center for Applied Research conducted a study on the impact of supportive housing in Evansville. The study found an annual savings of $1,149 per person by allocating resources to permanent supportive housing to treat chronic homelessness, compared to traditional means of emergency shelter and assistance.

A separate study of Crawford Homes and Apartments, a supportive housing complex in Bloomington, found that the program reduced emergency room visits among its residents by 65 percent, and reduced incarceration by 88 percent.

Those statistics show that supportive housing has a positive impact, but not enough supportive housing is available in central Indiana, Fancher said.

Both Fancher and Lindenlaub serve on Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s advisory council for safe affordable housing, and were familiar with the work their organizations do. As they were talking about the deep roots of homelessness and the needs of the community, one place they kept finding common ground were people who are frequently homeless, often for extended periods of time.

Centerstone and Thrive Alliance partnered and applied to take part in the Indiana Supportive Housing Institute. The six-month program of intensive training, created by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Corporation for Supportive Housing, helps groups create plans for supportive housing.

Representatives from Centerstone and Thrive Alliance, as well as the city of Columbus, will go through the institute to learn the different models of supportive housing, how to make such housing successful and the technical details that go into it. They’ll figure out how to choose tenants, create plans for property management and understand different financing options to support their model.

By late August, the team will have developed a detailed plan for establishing supportive housing.

“We’ll train pretty deeply on the housing-first model, and the specific needs of the clientele that we’ll be serving through this. It’s a hands-on institute, so instead of theory, we’ll have our housing plan as we go through training,” Lindenlaub said.

Once the training is completed, they will present their plan to a group of public and private investors willing to help fund supportive housing projects, with up to $2 million made available to support the projects.

Supportive housing will be available to people from Johnson County and six other counties: Bartholomew, Shelby, Jackson, Brown, Decatur and Jennings. Together, those counties work together through a continuum of care, a regional planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.

Though details will be developed, the regional supportive housing program will connect organizations that care for the homeless in those six counties and they will learn to assess people to determine the best course of assistance, Fancher said.

When a homeless individual comes to a Johnson County agency such as the United Way looking for emergency shelter or other services, that person would be assessed for their needs. They could be referred to the supportive housing network created by Centerstone and Thrive Alliance, Fancher said.

One of the novel aspects of the supportive housing framework is that it is open to anyone struggling with homelessness, Lindenlaub said. Their approach will be providing a home first, then addressing the next needs to help pull people out of poverty.

“Almost every housing program requires that the applicant meet a variety of conditions before they move in,” Lindenlaub said. “We qualify that the person has to fix themselves before they qualify for housing. This doesn’t do that.”

At the start, the supportive housing will be based in Columbus. People from Johnson County will get help locally, and be placed in supportive housing set up in Bartholomew County, Fancher said.

But the hope is that eventually, the housing model could be expanded.

“If someone was in Johnson County, they’d have to go to Bartholomew County. But eventually, we’d like to collaborate with each of the communities in the region — Franklin, Greenwood — to have a permanent supportive housing site in their community and utilizing service providers there,” Fancher said.

Johnson County has recently embarked on its own program to reduce homelessness. No Place to Call Home launched as a pilot program in October, growing out of nearly two years of research and discussion among community leaders about the best way to approach the homeless issue in Johnson County.

Participants receive case management and guidance to help them escape poverty, while emergency services such as hotel rooms or rent support gives them temporary shelter. As of late February, 16 households have entered into the program, and $16,700 in financial assistance has been provided.

At this point, No Place to Call Home has not talked with Centerstone or Thrive Alliance representatives regarding how the two initiatives can fit together, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County. But Tina McAninch, director of the No Place to Call Home initiative, will be reaching out to them in the future to see how they can work together, Plake said.

At a glance

Supportive housing initiative

What is it?

A partnership based in Columbus aimed at reducing long-term homelessness by creating permanent, stable housing for those dealing with untreated mental illness, substance use and other life-altering issues.

Who is involved?

The partnership is between Thrive Alliance, a organization increasing affordable housing to the needy, and Centerstone, a nonprofit group providing mental health, substance abuse, education and integrated health services. The city of Columbus will also be involved.

What are they doing?

The group has been accepted into the Indiana Supportive Housing Institute, a six-month intensive training course helping communities create permanent supportive housing. The institute is organized by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Corporation of Supportive Housing.

How will it work?

Once the Centerstone-Thrive Alliance team completes the institute training, they’ll present a plan to implement permanent supportive housing in a seven-county region. Private and public investors will provide funding to put the plan into action. Individuals struggling with long-term homelessness will be assessed and enter into the housing program.

What counties will be impacted?

Johnson, Bartholomew, Shelby, Decatur, Jackson, Brown and Jennings.

What is the timetable?

The partners are currently participating in the Indiana Supportive Housing Institute. They’ll present a plan for the housing at the end of August.

Supportive Housing At a Glance

What is supportive housing?

Supportive housing is designed to serve people who would not be able to stay housed without a wide range of supportive services.

Who is it designed to help?

People living in supportive housing usually have a long history of homelessness and often face persistent obstacles to maintaining housing, such as a serious mental illness, a substance use disorder or a chronic medical problem. Many face more than one of these serious conditions.

Why is supportive housing important?

While services are necessary to help tenants maintain stability, being housed is an essential first step in addressing these conditions that often have gone untreated for many years. Therefore, the combination of housing and supportive services creates a synergy that allows tenants to take steps toward recovery and independence.

Is supportive housing cost effective?

Compared with other very low-income people, this group of men and women disproportionately uses shelters, emergency health care and public mental health services — often cycling rapidly through various public institutions at great cost to taxpayers. Supportive housing can break the cycle by providing housing and the services they need to remain in a home.

— Information from the Corporation for Supportive Housing

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