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Homeless advocates pitch local sales-tax hike

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A coalition of groups that serve the homeless population is looking to Marion County taxpayers to provide a permanent, dedicated source of funding through an increase in the local sales tax.

A local sales tax increase of one-eighth to one-quarter percent would generate $9.6 million to $19.3 million a year, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, or CHIP, says in a new draft of the “Blueprint to End Homelessness,” released Nov. 11.

CHIP leaders plan to lobby the Indiana Legislature starting in 2013 to allow a referendum in the 2014 general election, according to the Blueprint. Indianapolis already adds 2 percent on sales of prepared food and beverages to the state’s 7-percent sales tax to support sports venues downtown.

CHIP has dubbed the proposal the “Common Cents” initiative and says it will become a strong advocate for public funding to address the city’s roughly 1,500 homeless. That estimated population has been cut in half since the first Blueprint was released in 2002.

“Our community’s frustration is that we have an adequate number of apartments and houses but lack the funds to place people into decent, affordable housing and pay for the crucial services they need to sustain it,” the draft reads.

Thought CHIP won't start lobbying right away, the fact that other groups plan to seek dedicated taxes will influence the Legislature's williness to consider any new tax hikes, said John Ketzenberger, president of the not-for-profit Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute. The Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority wants a referendum on local-option income taxes for mass transit in Marion and some surrounding counties.

Ketzenberger predicted that the General Assembly will take its time in setting priorities. "I strongly suspect there won't be many approved in the 2012 session, if any," he said. "It's unclear how the Legislature will sort this out , or even if it will try. I expect there will be a fair amount of tension between granting local control and ensuring that tax rates remain in line county-to-county."

CHIP Program Director Michael Hurst said that the sales tax money would likely be overseen by an advisory board that would make grants to not-for-profits, which often struggle to cover ongoing expenses, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation for chronically homeless people.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is helping different homelessness agencies work together and find one-time sources of funding, spokesman Marc Lotter said.

But “when it comes to raising a general tax, that’s not something that is one of the mayor’s priorities,” Lotter said.

Hurst said CHIP might end up pursuing something other than a sales tax, after taking public comment on the draft Blueprint.

“That’s out there for a conversation,” he said. “We’ll see what the conversation brings.”

CHIP also is eyeing the millions of property-tax dollars that some township trustees hold in reserve.

The Blueprint calls on trustees, who are local government’s designated source of poor relief, to set aside revenue to address homelessness.

Center Township, for example, had an $8.5 million surplus at the end of 2010, according to state financial reports. Trustee Eugene Aker could not be reached for comment.

“Short of [the trustees’] voluntary attention to this issue, the community should demand that township funds be dedicated to homeless services,” the draft says.

Pike Township Trustee Lula Patton said she objected to the report’s tone. “The way this is written is really unfair to trustees,” she said.

The Blueprint points out that some trustees deny poor relief to homeless people because they can’t prove they live in the township. Patton said proof of residency is required by state law.

“I can’t just hand out money without following the guidelines,” she said.

Patton, who said Pike Township does not have any surplus revenue, said she would like to do more for homelessness, as she hears about families doubling up with friends and relatives.

The township currently pays bills that Pike residents generate at the Julian Center for domestic violence victims, Patton said. In Lawrence and Warren townships, trustees are paying utility bills at apartments that private owners have set aside as safe havens for domestic violence victims.

In addition to dedicated funding, CHIP names a number of priorities, which it hopes not-for-profits, religious groups and the business sector will adopt:

Dedicate housing to homeless people who have alcohol or other addictions, but are not willing to go into rehab.

Dedicate housing for homeless people ages 18 to 24.

—  Establish an “engagement center” where police officers can take chronically homeless, intoxicated people, rather than jail or the emergency room. Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County is currently seeking a location for this facility.

—  Set aside units in privately owned apartment complexes as safe havens for domestic violence victims or families in need of short-term housing.

Allow community development corporations to rent out rehabbed houses.

Find a place for homeless populations such as HIV-positive, gays and lesbians, single-father families and single women, who are not allowed in existing shelters.

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  • Homeless
    This tax will not help the homeless! Trustees deny poor relief to homeless people because they can’t prove they live in the township, proof of residency is required by state law. Homeless people do not have documents...so who will really get this this money??
  • Let them eat cheese
    Why not just buy them all bus tickets to Minnesota and drive them to the bus station? They'd get the help they need up there in the land of liberal guilt and we'd solve our homeless problem at a bargain price.
  • Utter Lunacy
    There was a guy on the Circle yesterday holding a sign asking for work. He was standing less than 100' from a restaurant with a help wanted sign in the window. I'm sorry, but I do not want to fund such idiocy. If the do-gooders succeed with this nonsense, I will simply buy less stuff. I suspect I'm not alone. That'll be good for the economy.
  • taxpayer can't add either
    1/8 of 1% x $50 = $.0625. Sheesh, what skool u went?
  • TIRED OF THIS
    We are funding rich people {Simon and Irsay) and now we can fund this. Church and charities do this. Is this what taxes should be used for
  • $$$
    I'm already broke. Let's add to that already. Wish my pay went up like they raise taxes.
  • Shennanigans
    Mr. Taxpayer, based on your misspelling of the word "steak," I must call shennanigans. I do not believe you are a St. Elmos diner.
    • more lobbyists
      Just what we need, another lobbyist for a special interest group! Why not take the pay from top executives for one year, including their bonuses and put that out there for the homeless. Some people just don't want to be part of the grid, others do need help. Don't lump those that want to be left alone in with those who are looking for a home.
    • Clarification
      I should have stated that the vast majority of the long term homeless are in fact convicted felons. They may happen to be veterans and/or but not always drug and alcohol abusers. I'm not sure which came first, but if you've ever worked with or around that population, that is a known fact. The point is not pointing fingers, by the way. It's pointing out a problem that needs a solution. Working is better than hand outs any day, for everyone!
    • How dare they!
      How dare they add $0.625 - $0.125 to my $50 St. Elmo's stake, and give it to someone. I am an American!
      • Idiotic Statements
        How in the world can anyone claim to know that the homeless are mentally ill or are all convicted felons??? Did I miss a study? A lot are veterans who cannot find jobs and families who have lost there income(s) and have run out of unemployment. How calloused have we become - geez!? I do agree that the extra 1% sales tax tacked on for our mega-venues is long-past stupid (Market Square and the RCA Dome were still fine) and with the dismal Colts' season and the absence of NBA apparent, how else are these venues going to be paid for?
      • Address all problems
        Since the vast majority of the homeless are convicted felons, how is that issue going to be addressed. This is an ever growing problem in all counties, especially Marion. Anderson also has a huge population of convicted felons who are homeless. We need a solution to get these people employed if they are employable. Housing is only half of the solution.
      • Almost Homeless
        I agree with Bryan...take what we have and re-appropriate to a better cause. Why are we lining the silver pockets of sports venue owners when most of us can not even afford to go to a game let alone a season.
      • Wow
        And how much of this money will actually end up in the hands of politicians? We will never know because we never know how much of our taxes goes into their pockets. Homeless people are mentally ill. They need to be institutionalized. People need to start watching the comedian Christopher Titus...there is so much truth in what he says.
      • G-Man
        The problem with capitalism is you eventually run out of resources to exploit from other people and countries. Stop It!!!!!
      • mental illness
        I have not yet read the blueprint, but I hope they focus on providing treatment for mental illness and substance abuse. The homeless population does in fact have a disproportionate share of mental illness. Housing them is a great start, but unless we address the underlying problems and barreiers to housing and employment, we are patching a bigger problem.
        • No!!!!!!!!!!
          "The problem w/Socialism is you eventually run out of other people's money." Stop it!!!
          • WOW
            The Dems just took over the City / County Council and people are already talking about tax hikes. Istn't that why they lost 4 years ago?
          • Regressive Tax
            A regressive tax that will hurt lower income residents put in place to help the homeless. Let me guess the board of CHIP is either too wealthy to feel the pinch or doesn't even live in Marion County.
          • sales tax hike
            Instead of adding more to the sales tax, why not just shave off 1% that goes to support billionaire sports teams and venues, and use that 1% to support the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention proposal. It is time that the city and state stop supporting professional sport teams and concentrate on helping the needs of the community at large.

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