Nonprofit study: Indy homelessness jumped 10 percent over past year

A nonprofit that works with the city reports that the homeless population spiked 10 percent over the past year. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A nonprofit that works with the city reports that the homeless population spiked 10 percent over the past year.

The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) counts the homeless population every year and released their 2017 results this week.

The count, according to CHIP, is required for the city to get federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. City leaders send the results to the federal government.

CHIP counted 1,787 homeless people in Indianapolis on Jan. 25, CHIP’s highest tally since 2014. The nonprofit visits bridges, camps and shelters for one day in Jan. each year to tally the homeless population on that day.

“I was really alarmed to see the increase,” CHIP Executive Director Alan Witchey said. “We know housing first works. If we get people off the streets, we get them housed, they actually can start dealing with other issues in their life.”

In his State of the City address this week, Mayor Joe Hogsett vowed to create permanent housing for 400 homeless people over the next year. He’s referring to housing developments with resources and funds to help people transition from homelessness.

The staff at the Wheeler Mission said those developments could open up space in their men’s shelter at East and Market.

Wheeler Mission marketing director Brian Crispin said about 250 people are staying at the shelter a night and about 500 per night in the winter. He said the numbers have skyrocketed, in part, due to a growing drug epidemic. Two people overdose at the shelter per week, according to Crispin.

Crispin himself checked into Wheeler Mission in 2006 to treat his alcohol addiction.

“I fear that day when I walked through those front doors, if they would have said you have to sleep on the mat, I would have turned away,” Crispin said. “I wouldn’t have gotten help and I would be dead or in prison.”

Today, asking guests to sleep on the floor is a reality as the shelter is seeing record numbers.

Robert Tasich has been staying at the shelter off-and-on since 2012.

“You gotta read The Bible. You gotta believe. You gotta believe that there’s somebody out there who’s gonna want you to work for them,” Tasich said.

The Greenwood native said he recently found a steady job and he sees brighter days ahead.

According to CHIP, job loss is the top cause of homelessness in Indianapolis.

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