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Lack of donations forces agency helping homeless to close doors

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For 11 years, Christian Help Inc. has been serving as a sanctuary for the homeless and those in danger of losing their homes.

The group provided rent payments so families could keep their apartments, offered assistance paying utilities so they had heat and water and found hotels where people could stay temporarily.

But as donations dwindled almost to nothing, officials had to admit they had no more help to give.

The Christian Help board of directors announced Tuesday that the organization was permanently closing its doors. It will not reorganize in the future, director LaTheda Noonan said.

She said it no longer was able to pay its rent, let alone provide assistance to its clients.

“We were helpless here. We’re floundering,” she said. “With the decreased donations and the increased number of people needing help, we had to make the difficult decision to close our doors.”

Christian Help was founded in 2003 to help the homeless with temporary shelter, education and utility help.

Though the agency provided monetary support on its own, it also helped direct the homeless to resources within the community, such as township trustees, Human Services and the Salvation Army.

But that bridge has now been severed, Noonan said.

“I believe you’re going to see more people losing their homes and more people getting evicted from their apartments,” she said. “Often, we were the very last agency people would go to. They don’t have that anymore.”

Donations had been waning for years, and Christian Help never had enough to provide help to all of the people who needed it, Noonan said.

But as recently as one year ago, the agency seemed to be gaining momentum. Plans were announced to open a new day shelter, where the homeless could stop in and get a hot meal, shower, use computers to apply for jobs and get out of the elements.

The group’s Dress for Success program was providing people with gently used business outfits for job interviews.

But in December, Christian Help had to cancel the day shelter when it was forced to find a new, smaller office location.

During the past eight months, donations had dwindled to the point where the agency couldn’t pay its own bills. Despite months of working to find a solution, the board of directors decided to close, Noonan said.

The major struggle the organization had was making the public aware that homelessness was a problem in Johnson County. Unlike Indianapolis, communities such as Greenwood, Franklin and Edinburgh don’t have a visible problem such as people living on the streets in cardboard boxes.

But the homeless issue is just as real, Noonan said. Instead of sleeping on the street, they’re living out of their cars, crashing on friends’ couches or pitching tents in the woods.

“We’ve always been aware that people don’t recognize the homeless problem here,” Noonan said. “Until people see the homeless and see the problem, it’s not going to exist to most people.”

Homeless statistics are hard to gather, since those affected are often moving from location to location. During the most recent Point-In-Time count, conducted on a single night in January in every county in the nation, it was determined that 48 people were living in cars or hotels.

But that doesn’t take into account people staying with relatives or friends or those who are on the verge of homelessness and need help with their rent or mortgage payments, Noonan said.

On Aug. 6, Noonan stopped taking calls from people seeking help. Over the course of four days, she found she had 40 messages from people needing assistance.

With Christian Help closing its doors, the primary assistance agencies for the homeless will become the township trustees, Salvation Army and Human Services.

But those agencies also struggle to meet the needs of the homeless here in the county and now have added pressure with one less place to turn.

Noonan said, “Without us, we’re going to see more people becoming homeless. The ones who need help, they have nowhere else to go.”

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