City shifts approach to homeless services, lands $5M in federal funding

Indianapolis leaders came together Tuesday to celebrate regaining federal funding for local programs aimed at curbing homelessness—as well as to announce systemic changes in the city’s approach to homeless services.

Mayor Joe Hogsett announced 27 projects throughout the city would receive $5.03 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2017. That’s a $600,000 increase over 2016, when groups funded through the Continuum of Care program received about $4.43 million.

Program leaders last year bemoaned a 15 percent cut in the funding they received over 2015 from HUD—prompting the mayor to convene a group to better plan for the latest application.

“We are looking at long-term solutions, solutions that fundamentally address the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Hogsett said. “This funding is just the beginning. I am committed to joining with those in this room to create the type of systematic [change] necessary to end chronic homelessness in Indianapolis once and for all.”

One of those changes includes implementing a single “front door” for people to access dozens of housing options through a process called "coordinated entry." That program is set to launch later this year and will be made possible by the increased funding.

“Up to today, you call a shelter to see if they have a vacancy, you call another shelter, and you get caught in this endless loop of phone calls,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett.

The programs will begin using the same data-sharing system, which will allow them to be more efficient, Bennett said.

Advocates last year described the funding cuts as a “self-inflicted” wound.

The Mayor’s Office said the groups needed to put together a more competitive application to the federal government to regain money.

“This new process allowed for a more comprehensive approach to prioritizing projects and a shift of focus from transitional housing to more permanent, stable solutions,” according to the Department of Metropolitan Development.

Bennett said the change resulted in Indianapolis' scoring higher on its application, as well as five new programs' being funded.

But Alan Witchey, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, or CHIP, said there is more work to be done. He encouraged groups combating homelessness to gain stronger connections at the Indianapolis Housing Agency and the criminal justice and community corrections system.

"We have just as much work to do now," Witchey said. "We’ve got to keep that going."

Hogsett said getting more funding means helping citizens who are facing “stark realities.” He said the fastest-growing segment of Indianapolis’ homeless population is families.

Hogsett also cheered Monday’s ribbon-cutting for the city’s new Reuben Engagement Center, 752 E. Market St., which will provide shelter and medical detoxing to the homeless, as well as case management and mental health evaluations.

“The work we will do to change lives and change hearts will make our community a true home for every citizen of this great city,” Hogsett said.

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