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City launches 'Street Reach' effort to help homeless, curb panhandling

September 26, 2017
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Mayor Joe Hogsett (right) debuted new "parking meters" and cash boxes for donations supporting Professional Blended Street Outreach. (IBJ photo/Hayleigh Colombo)

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and other downtown business and not-for-profit leaders on Tuesday announced a new campaign aimed at providing services to people experiencing homelessness—and curbing panhandling.

Leaders said the Street Reach Indy campaign is expected to “increase barrier-buster funding to support street-outreach efforts, including access to immediate mental health services, medication, transportation, [and] job-readiness resources.”

Central to the campaign is a new full-time manager who will focus on business engagement and connecting homeless individuals to housing and addiction treatment options.

For that role, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, or CHIP, and Downtown Indy Inc. have hired Tom Tuttle, who previously was a coordinator and case manager for Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, which assists homeless veterans return to self-sufficiency.

He is charged with helping city leaders “better understand the housing and homeless situation for panhandlers downtown.”

The goal of the position is “to respond within the minute” to take care of businesses’ and homeless people's needs, said Sherry Seiwert, president of Downtown Indy Inc.

But the most visible aspect of the campaign will likely be more than two dozen new branded donation "parking meters" and cash boxes placed predominately downtown that are branded as part of the campaign.

The meters and boxes will accept donations used to support Professional Blended Street Outreach, a group of several different agencies that provide people on the street direct support that will help serve homeless people’s immediate needs, including getting them into permanent housing.

Hogsett encouraged Indianapolis residents to “open our hearts” to homeless residents and that “we all need to make the choice to listen, to care and to act.”

“We realize we only remain united if we tend to the well-being of all people, including our most vulnerable neighborhoods,” Hogsett said.

The boxes were previously used starting in 2014 as part of the city’s “Know Outlets” campaign, which raised $127,000 in two years and helped 138 people.

CHIP executive director Alan Witchey said those funds have in the past gone to help people with a deposit for an apartment, or pay a utility bill, or buy steel-toed shoes that will allow them to start a new job.

To kick off the effort, Downtown Indy Inc. has issued a dollar-for-dollar matching-funds challenge for up to $50,000 in donations. People interested can also donate online at www.streetreachindy.org.

Seiwert said she wants to “address homelessness and panhandling with compassion” and that many people approached by panhandlers downtown are “not sure how to respond, but they do want to help."

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