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Southern Indiana homeless nonprofit secures new emergency shelter site

Cots in an emergency seasonal shelter in Southern Indiana
Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana
The Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana is partnering with Culbertson Baptist Church for its emergency "white flag" shelter this season. Pictured are beds at a previous shelter location.

The Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana was struggling to find space for an emergency shelter to open during the coldest nights of the year until a local church stepped up to help.

Coalition Director Leslea Townsend Cronin said it’s been a challenge each year to find space for the seasonal emergency shelter that provides people with a warm place to stay during the coldest nights of the year.

It’s called a “white flag” shelter and it's designed to run from mid-November through mid-April on nights when temperatures are expected to be at or below 35 degrees for at least four hours.

The coalition started the Southern Indiana program in 2016. Last season they helped 250 people — an “astounding surge in guests and need,” according to the group’s annual report.

And this year, as in years past, they’ve struggled to find a space ahead of the start of cold weather.

“We were looking all year, every year,” Townsend Cronin said. “As soon as white flag is over, we’re like ‘alright, where are we going to be next year?’”

This week they announced on social media they’re partnering with Culbertson Baptist Church in New Albany. Townsend Cronin said a church member reached out after seeing a local news story on the coalition’s search for space in the News and Tribune.

They’re leasing shelter and office space from the church, which she said will provide more stability.

“So while our white flag is only half a year when the weather gets cold enough, [now] we’ve got a space where people just kind of know where we’re at,” she said.

Townsend Cronin said this year, they were looking for a spot to hold at least 60 beds — that’s around the peak number of guests they had at one time last year. But the church gym will provide that space and more, and Townsend Cronin said they currently have around 70 beds to use if needed.

Church leaders are also making changes at the site for the coalition to have use of a washer and dryer. They’re also going to start fundraising soon to get showers installed.

The coalition may also start a “red shelter” program in the future for nights of extreme heat during warmer months. While the coalition will still look for a site to buy or build for operations in the future, she’s glad they have something secure now.

“I'm just thankful that we've got a long-term place,” Townsend Cronin said. “I think this is going to be a great partnership with this church. They welcomed us with open arms.”

The coalition also helps people with housing insecurity navigate some of the challenges they may face, like acquiring state and federal benefits, and housing assistance. Since 2021, they’ve helped prevent more than 500 evictions in Southern Indiana, Townsend Cronin told local officials earlier this year.

Culbertson Baptist Church is at 4007 Grant Line Road in New Albany. On nights when white flag has been called, guests are provided with meals and free transportation to and from the shelter via TARC, which has a stop just outside the church.

The Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana is hosting a volunteer training session Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon. Signups are here.

They’re also accepting donations including meals and supplies like clothes and hand warmers.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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