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Southern Indiana Needs Regional Approach to Address Homelessness, Researcher Says

On any given night, as many as 300 people in Southern Indiana are sleeping in shelters, cars or on the street, according to a street count earlier this year.

But, in reality, the number of homeless residents in Southern Indiana is likely much higher, said Melissa Fry,  director of the applied research center at Indiana University Southeast.

"The count covers an estimated a quarter to a third of the population that is without stable housing," she said.

Homelessness is an issue Southern Indiana officials want to end. And now, they have a plan.

Fry and a team of researchers spent the last year examining homelessness in Southern Indiana and developed a detailed strategy that she believes will lead to quelling the issue.

"I think people are ready to see us do a better job at addressing this problem," she said.

Homeless residents in Southern Indiana commonly make their way to Louisville, Fry said, because in Louisville there are more available services for vulnerable populations.

But it goes both ways, she added.

Some homeless residents in Louisville may consider Southern Indiana to be safer and quieter.

"That's a perception issue, but it does mean that the traffic flows both directions," she said.

Fry's group's strategy calls for creating a network of community support systems that will lead to more efficient assessments processes for individuals, and securing funding to help bolster case management services and shelter programs, Fry said.

A main focus of the plan will be to implement a newly established Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana, Fry said.

That coalition is being founded by the "core housing agencies in our community," she said. Including Center for Women and Families, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities, Jeffersonville Housing Authority, New Albany Housing Authority, the Salvation Army and LifeSpring Health Systems.

The coalition will coordinate efforts to combat homelessness between all available agencies, Fry said.

"This will be a huge step for Southern Indiana," she said. "Louisville has a very functional coalition and we really need that here."

Another key aspect of the plan Fry said is paramount for helping end homelessness in Southern Indiana is coordinating intake assessment processes for homeless residents.

Determining the needs of individuals and ensuring they are sent to the proper service provider "is huge" when considering how best to serve someone.

"It will save time and we're hoping it will expedite the referral process so people can more quickly access the service they need and we can return them to stable housing quicker," she said.

Establishing more affordable and safe housing options and ensuring residents exiting the criminal justice system, foster care, rehab or health care systems are not discharged into homelessness will be additional key factors of the plan, Fry said.

The biggest hurdle expects to meet in implementing and carrying out the 10-year plan is the need to secure funding.

The study presented Thursday was commissioned by the Jefffersonville Homelessness Task Force and cost about $30,000, she said. Currently, there is no money to carry out the plan, she added.

"Having the plan is part of getting the money," she said. "It's very hard to attract money without having a clear plan."

She said the task force will work for public and private grants, as well as reach out to local philanthropies.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.