The homeless of Johnson County often find themselves caught in a vicious cycle that keeps them trapped in poverty.

Many struggle with addiction, mental health disorders or other situations that lead to their lack of housing. But without a place to stay, they can’t begin to address those underlying issues and improve their lives.

Currently, Johnson County has no housing available to help the homeless get both shelter and services at the same time. But a team hopes to start planning such housing later this month. Any housing projects that are built would likely be in Franklin, since that is where the need is most severe.

A group of Johnson County officials has been accepted to the Indiana Permanent Supportive Housing Institute, a yearly training session that gives communities the tools and guidance necessary to start housing programs. The team will learn from state experts how to create permanent places to live that feature all-encompassing services to prevent homelessness.

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By the end of the training, the Johnson County team will have the elements needed to plan a permanent supportive apartment project locally.

“Basically, we’re getting prepared. We’re learning, understand more about what this housing is, what it does, how it can help the community and help our most vulnerable populations,” said Kimberly Spurling, executive director of KIC-IT. “Just because we’re going through this process doesn’t mean that we’re coming out with something. There are no guarantees with this. But that’s what our goal is.”

The Johnson County group will be comprised of representatives from organizations the United Way of Johnson County, homeless youth outreach KIC-IT and the collaborative homelessness initiative No Place to Call Home. Pioneer Development Services, a county-based housing developer specializing in tax credit-financed multi-family housing, has partnered with the team as well.

Valenti Real Estate Services and CRMorphew Consulting will also be taking part.

“We all share the same mission and vision of assisting and investing in our community, and ensuring that our most vulnerable populations in the community are taken care of,” Spurling said. “Housing and these types of opportunities are the biggest barriers to our clients.”

Permanent supportive housing is a concept that helps the homeless break the cycle of over-relying on crisis services at hospitals, detox centers, jails and other public institutions when they have no other options. Unlike emergency or transitional shelters, this type of housing is open to residents for as long as they qualify.

To ensure that tenants remain housed, mental health services, substance abuse counseling and medical care are provided as well.

“This type of housing is really geared to wrapping services around them to help them move out of poverty, to help them overcome any kind of hurdles,” Spurling said. “It provides housing for them in a permanent situation, where individuals and families can live forever.”

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.

The goal is for Johnson County to soon have a housing complex that could do the same thing, Spurling said.

The Indiana Permanent Supportive Housing Institute was created by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority together with the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

The housing institute has helped leaders in Bloomington and Terre Haute start housing projects in their communities. At this point, there is no permanent supportive housing anywhere in Johnson County, said Tina McAninch, program director for No Place to Call Home.

“We need to figure out how to get these units here, and then how to sustain them,” she said.

Johnson County became involved at the behest of Terry Keusch, president of Pioneer Development. He has worked closely with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority in the past, and knew about the benefits of the housing institute.

When Keusch became a board member for KIC-IT, he pushed the idea of applying more seriously.

“He brought it to our board, and of course, our minds are blowing up with excitement and ideas for housing. (Terry) had to help us understand the importance of everything involved,” Spurling said. “Even the first step on this journey is huge for us, in this learning process.”

The application process started in late 2017, with representatives sharing statistics about Johnson County’s housing crisis and homeless situation. Showing the needs of the county’s most vulnerable residents was key in being accepted, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

Johnson County also featured pre-existing collaborations and services that are already being shared across social agencies in the community, demonstrating the commitment already in place to help the homeless.

“One of the things they wanted to know was, do we have community support and community resources that we can bring to the table,” Lohr Plake said.

This year’s institute will start in late February.

Over the course of four months, the Johnson County team will learn the Housing First model, which provides a place to live to the homeless first, then works to address mental health, addiction and other issues through voluntary services.

“If you have a mental health issue, you don’t have to recover from your problem before you get stable housing,” McAninch said. “You need to have a place to live, and then get the services at the same time.”

The participants will lay the organizational foundation of permanent supportive housing in the county, including creating a tenant selection and property management plan, identifying the roles of each partnering organization and setting minimum standards for design criteria for a housing complex.

A large part of the institute will help the Johnson County team understand funding options, such a tax credits and pre-development loans, for creating permanent selective housing. The team will be asked to develop a primary budget for a local project.

Local participants stress that even after they finish the training session, they will still have much work to do before permanent supportive housing is a reality in Johnson County. Their only goals at this point is to have an aesthetically pleasing, safe and secure complex, closely monitored and managed, that blends into the surrounding area.

“It’s learning, learning, learning. The whole point is helping us identify a project concept that will help us move forward to our future goals,” Spurling said.

Permanent Supportive Housing

What is supportive housing?

A cost-effective combination of permanent, affordable housing with flexible services that helps people live more stable, productive lives.

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.

Why is supportive housing used?

In 2013, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority contracted with the University of Southern Indiana’s Center for Applied Research to conduct a study of the impact of supportive housing developments in Evansville. Key findings for the report include:

  • 100 percent reduction in use of emergency shelters
  • 83 percent savings associated with incarceration
  • 78 percent savings for medical hospitalizations
  • 66 percent savings for emergency room services
  • 62 percent savings for mental health hospitalizations

Who benefits from supportive housing?

  • Chronically homeless
  • Individuals that cycle through institutional and emergency systems and are at risk of long-term homelessness
  • Individuals being discharged from institutions and emergency systems of care
  • Medically vulnerable individuals at risk of dying on the street

— Information from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Corporation for Supportive Housing

At a glance

Indiana Permanent Supportive Housing Institute

What: A four-month training session designed to help communities end long-term and recurring homelessness through permanent supportive housing.

Who: The institute is put on by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Corporation for Supportive Housing

When: Late February to late May

What is included: Teams participating in the institute will develop plans to create permanent supportive housing in their communities. This will involve targeted training, group exercises and technical assistance presented with pre-development financing opportunities.

What will be the end result: This work will set forth a plan to development permanent supportive housing that meets the unique needs of your community. At the end of the institute, teams will present their plans to a group of public and private investors.

Johnson County housing institute team:

  • Kimberly Spurling, executive director of KIC-IT
  • Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of United Way of Johnson County
  • Jenny Kinnaman, Helpline director of United Way of Johnson County
  • Tina McAninch, program director for No Place to Call Home
  • Terry Keusch, owner of Pioneer Development Services
  • Mark Valenti, president of Valenti Real Estate Services
  • Stacey Carlisle, Valenti Real Estate Services
  • Cheryl Morphew, CRMorphew Consulting, LLC
Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.