Monument Circle, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indiana World Memorial Plaza, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the list of attractions goes on. Though downtown Indianapolis is thriving with aspects that make this capital city an ideal destination, there is a huge underlying issue among these attractions that many seem to ignore.
Well over 1,666 individuals in Indianapolis are experiencing homelessness. A 2015 count conducted by Public Policy Research for Indiana showed a 33 percent increase in unsheltered individuals over the previous year, and studies suggest that the number of people in Indianapolis experiencing homelessness is about three to five times more than the number projected.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an individual is defined as homeless if they meet one of the following conditions:
(1) Individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who is exiting an institution where he or she resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution;
(2) Individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.
This is what can be called a “revolving-door” crisis due to the fact that many people only experience homelessness for a very short time, yet more and more people are becoming homeless each day.
Many families and individuals experiencing homelessness in the Indianapolis area are being denied the help they need due to the city's rapidly growing homeless population. This increase has created a lack of space in nearly every homeless shelter in Indianapolis, landing many homeless individuals and families on waiting lists and forcing them to the streets.
The long-term solutions of creating more available shelter space, affordable housing, and assistance programs for the homeless are just that: long term. What needs to be addressed first is an increase in interest and support by the Indianapolis community for people experiencing homelessness.
“This issue is one that is kind of tabooed and awkward, and a lot of people don’t know how to get involved with the really big homelessness issue Indianapolis is facing,” Conner LaGrange, an IUPUI student making substantial efforts to raise awareness about homelessness, said.
LaGrange started #MyNameIsNotHomeless as a social action project for his COMM-G 100 course and has been hard at work furthering his endeavor far past the walls of any classroom.
“I have been doing homeless outreach downtown for about a year and a half now and it’s totally pushed me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “The night of the Super Bowl I was downtown volunteering and thought, ‘If I have to do this project for this class, I want to do it for something good and for something I’m already passionate about.' Over the course of about 15 minutes, I had this grandiose idea to start making a difference on campus and expanding that to Indianapolis on a much broader scale.”
On April 18 LaGrange and his team of volunteers will be spending the afternoon in Taylor Courtyard to not only raise awareness but also network with others on campus who share an interest in the mission of My Name Is Not Homeless.
“My Name Is Not Homeless is all about giving support and recognition to the homeless, helping them develop the mindset that ‘my name is not homeless and I am not defined by my situation; this is just something that I am experiencing.’” said LaGrange.
LaGrange is not the only person dedicating himself to promoting awareness of homelessness in downtown Indianapolis.
Maurice Young, a college graduate and Indianapolis native, has been homeless since 2011 – by his own choice.
Young is a daily advocate for fair and equitable treatment for those, like himself, who call the streets ‘home.’ He has spoken at IUPUI to educate students on how to get involved with his mission and has also been featured on TEDxTalks Indianapolis, telling his story about why he has devoted his life to homelessness.
Similar to LaGrange's mission to raise awareness of Indianapolis’ homeless, Young hopes his mission can alter public opinion enough that government legislation and local policies will begin to improve conditions for homeless individuals in Indianapolis and beyond.
When an individual has been homeless, it becomes very challenging to regain a sense of stability. Lack of transportation, basic hygiene, and other fundamental necessities make it extremely difficult for someone experiencing homelessness to find employment and as a result, nearly impossible to obtain affordable housing.
The core message Young and the members of My Name Is Not Homeless are trying to convey is that it is imperative to improve the lives of our city’s homeless. These are real people with real stories in desperate need of more people to stand up and be the voice of the voiceless.
As Grace Rosenbarger, IUPUI student and My Name Is Not Homeless volunteer, put it:
“Homelessness doesn't always look like the guy on the street corner asking for money; sometimes it can be the girl who sits next to you in class that sleeps in her car at night. But by throwing a blanket term of ‘homeless’ over the whole group we keep ourselves at a safe distance where we seldom ever see who they truly are,” she said. “That's part of why I love the event name so much--it doesn't allow us to stay distant. By instantly saying what their name is not, it opens up the dialogue for what their name is. I find that so beautifully empowering.”
Be sure to visit Taylor Courtyard on Monday, April 18 at 1:30 p.m. to hang out with the #MyNameIsNotHomeless team and help raise awareness of homelessness in Indy.