Thoughts on the homeless in Indy -- from the trenches

Dateline: Mon 15 Feb 2010

Will Higgins had another good piece in this morning's Star on what is apparently a growing homeless population in Indy. His focus was on a camp under the Davidson Street bridge, where about 36 people -- mostly men -- sleep in tents nightly.

These folks prefer the freedom of the streets to the confines of shelters (where they can't drink, as several explained). They also object to shelters because they have to take their shoes and socks off rather than sleep with them on. Higgins does not say so, but the implication is shoes left at the side of the bed are likely to be stolen.

Their near-Downtown location, on the Near Eastside, places them less than a mile from Monument Circle and close to residential neighborhoods, including the Fletcher and Fountain Square areas and the Milano Inn restaurant, where they like to go to try to clean up. They are a problem to businesses and more traditoinal residents. Plus, as Higgins points out, nights are often characerized by booze-fueld fights.

While there are many issues to consider with the nation's homeless population, one that dogs us is how should help be given and by whom.

My friend Linda Cuff, an Eastsider, and her huband George Cuff spent a year or so ministering to homeless people thru an organization they created. The experience was bittersweet. A previous story by Will Higgins on the homeless elicited the following observations by Linda Cuff, which I sahre today --- food for thought, from the trenches. (or muffins for thought, since Linda was sometimes called "the muffin lady" since she occasionally delivered fresh muffins to the guys...)

Here is what Linda has to say:

"Will Higgins had an insightful article (January 7, 2010) regarding efforts of good samaritans to help Indianapolis’ homeless.

"There are two camps identified in his article: the samaritans (volunteers who work independently of official homeless agencies, in an effort to help those living on the street), and the advocates for the homeless (official agencies).   It could be argued that the samaritans are also advocates but with a different philosophy.

"Michael Hurst, program director for the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, is quoted saying the samaritans should stop trying to help the homeless directly. Don’t show up at camps with food, blankets, etc.   Although this may seem like the right thing to do, he says it hinders their efforts to get the chronically homeless off the streets, into shelters and provide them with long term help and services.

"A few years ago I was one of the good samaritans.  My heart broke at the sight and plight of the chronically homeless.  I invested a lot of time and money trying to provide basics.

I slowly realized that what I was doing was not as helpful as I thought.  I cringed as I realized the supplies we provided the homeless quickly became trash.  We could give soap, deodorant, blankets  one night and the next, the same people no longer had soap, deodorant or sometimes even that much needed blanket. 


"We encouraged the homeless to pick up their trash, providing bags and offering to take the filled ones to trash receptacles.  We had almost zero luck in implementing this.  I tried to explain to some of them that part of the reason the city “harassed” them was the unsanitary trash that built up.  The piles of trash that accumulated were appalling. We organized daytime clean ups of the areas, but they quickly returned to a garbage dump---where people lived.

"I believed (and still do) that our homeless population skyrocketed when Central State Mental Hospital closed.  There are those on the street who can’t understand that they desperately need help .That makes CHIP’s work even more difficult.  Add to the mix people with  loving hearts and good intentions providing basic necessities to that mentally ill person, and again, it makes getting him/her the help they need almost impossible.

Repeatedly seeing a chronically homeless person with a bottle of booze and pack of cigarettes, not to mention those under the influence of illegal drugs, was disheartening. We scrambled around to get donations to hand out, but some of the homeless’ priorities was to get their booze, -  forget about a bottle of water or a warm thrift store winter coat -- they chose alcohol over necessities.

"A very perplexing and complicated  problem--trying to help the homeless.

I’ve changed 'camps'…..I believe the 'helping' is best left to the agencies, organizations who strive to get the homeless off the streets.

However, I also believe that there will always be people living on the streets no matter who tries to help them."



VladTheImpaler [unverified] said:

Will did a terrific job with the story. Did the down in the ditches kind of reporting that you rarely see any more in the daily paper.

2010-02-15 17:15:50

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"I believed (and still do) that our homeless population skyrocketed when Central State Mental Hospital closed."
This is very true and we can thank Evan Bayh for that knee-jerk reaction when "fixable" problems came to be identified at state mental institutions.

But of course a so-called "fiscally-conservative" Republo-crat like Evan didn't want to spend any money on people who society would like to forget exist.

A family member's Indianapolis psychiatrist told me that what Bayh did to mentally ill people in Indiana - putting hundreds of them out on the streets of Indianapolis - was a absolute disgrace.

Good riddance, Evan. Please remain out of politics.

2010-02-15 17:42:21

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Whitebeard give it a rest.

Central State's closing was partly responsible. But the overwhelming cause was this global eocnomic crisis.
And its causes are, well...the stupid and expensive Iraqi war, misplaced budget priorities for eight years under Bush and one year under Obama, a ridiculously optimistic NAFTA enacted by a co-opted Clinton and Congress...hell we don't MAKE anything any more. Hence a deficit that exceeds all normal bounds, and joblessness that will, likely, get worse.

You can look around the globe at formerly-job-poor nations, and guess what? They're now making TVs, clothiing, and answering our calls to AT&T. For one-eighth the US wage. And our government let it happen--ney, even encouraged it. Shameful.

You know what frosts my tonsils? Presidents like Reagan and Bush get to claim they're fiscally conservative, and in relaity, they spent us into oblivion. Nobody pays attention to the details any more.

That said, this story opened my eyes. I'd contribute or do something if I thought it helped.

Right under our noses. We ought to be ashamed.

One question: what amount of open "homeless camps" are we going to be "allowed" to "tolerate" ? How many tent residents? Is 50 too many? One hundred too few?

Someone in charge had better get their arms around this.

2010-02-16 08:07:29

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

TTT says, "Someone in charge had better get their arms around this."

No kidding. And that someone should be Ballard, but he's too busy packing for his next India! Namaste, Greg!

2010-02-16 11:24:16

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

"Whitebeard give it a rest."

In the first place, I really don't need you telling me what to "give a rest" and what not to give a rest. I believe Ruth has set this up to be a forum for free speech and the free expression of ideas that may not be commonly held or necessarily popular.

"Give it a rest" translated: "shut up." I'm old and sick and cranky and I don't go with condescending jabs tossed my way.

Secondly, homelessness is not primarily a result of global economic crisis. Most of these people are mentally ill and/or losing battles to addiction. If they were able to get jobs, most wouldn't be able to keep them for more than a week.

I became very upset with Evan Bayh when he shut down the mental institutions because I saw terrible results of this up close and personal (in the life of a college roommate and close friend who developed serious mental illness and ended up out on the streets when Central State was shut down).

2010-02-16 13:19:37

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Whitebeard, from the Indy Coalition to Prevent Homelessness, their own data confirm: about 12-20% of the homeless are mentally ill, alcoholic or drug abusers.

The overwhelming majority are disaffected by the economic crisis.

I welcome intelligent give-and-take. But you're harping on a bad point, which isn't factual. So, again: give it a rest. I agree that Central State shouldn't have been closed without viable alternatives. At most it housed 80-100 patients near the end. There are 4000 homeless in indy. A little math, huh?

I, too, have close personal experiences with the mentally ill. None at Central State, though.

These folks are primarily homeless because they ran out of money. It could easily be me. If I knew how to help, I would. Opening four mental hospitals won't solve it.

Jobs will solve it.

2010-02-17 07:16:37

Whitebeard [unverified] said:


YOU give a rest. You seem to have a penchant for condescending to people who are presumptuous enough to disagree with your always-pinpoint-accurate opinions.

That 12-20 percent data is ridiculous. It is completely inconsistent with all of the national research on this subject.

2010-02-17 12:38:59

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