City leaders pleased with one-year study of Penn Place residents

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Community leaders out to help the area's homeless are pleased after seeing results of a year-long study of recently housed people in a new housing project.

Penn Place opened at the start of 2016, with 41 people placed in 38 apartment units. The complex was the first of its kind in the city, called a "housing first" approach.

“To take someone from the streets, literally, overnight put them in a home, and then wrap the services around them is so critical," Teresa Wessel, the executive director of Horizon House, said. Wessel's organization was responsible for finding tenants for the new housing model. "Once you solve that housing crisis now they can start focusing on other barriers they have, mental health or addiction issues.”

When the residents moved in, researchers at the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health surveyed the residents. They questioned them again six months into their stay and one more time at their one-year anniversary in their new homes.

The following results were found:

  • Use of emergency medical services decreased by 18 percent, an early indicator of improvement in overall health.
  • The quality of social relationships and connection with family improved.
  • Average number of days spent in jail or prison decreased by 60 percent.
  • Average income improved 154 percent.

“You’re taking people who have lived on the street, so the highest vulnerability, and putting them in a situation where they can focus on health, like the ER and the criminal justice system, that’s a cost saving to the public," said Lisa Robison, who works at the university and oversaw the day-to-day collection of data from the residents.

Leaders trying to curb the city's homeless population said Penn Place houses the most vulnerable people who are then surrounded by supportive services that help them navigate the benefit systems and manage chronic health conditions through on-site clinics operated by Eskenazi Pedigo Health Center and Midtown Mental Health.

“The first step is we have to show success, which we were able to do with this," said CHIP executive director, Alan Witchey. "Then we need more developers who are interested in stepping up and we hope to see more of that. We know there is interest. We know there are discussions happening.”

Penn Place was developed by BWI Developers, which financed the project, along with the design and construction of the apartment building. The company's CEO, Gary Hobbs had a brother experience homelessness which led him to help others going through the same experience.

Hobbs hoped others in the community would be more willing to back similar projects after seeing good results at Penn Place. "We want to share some of the lessons learned, the good and the not so good," he said. "There’s a huge need, not just one developer or company can handle the need that we have here in the city of Indianapolis.”

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