INDIANAPOLIS — When the ribbon was cut on Wheeler Mission’s new $14.8 million expansion of its Center for Women and Children on the eastside this morning, the woman who headed up the fundraising campaign to pay for the construction choked back tears.
“Because we have women and children on the streets every single day in this community and we’re better than that,” said Allison Melangton, Senior Vice President for Events, Penske Entertainment, her voice cracking. “This community stepped up across businesses, organizations, and individuals and I’m so grateful for everybody.”
“I’m grateful with our present need Wheeler is growing its capacity,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett.
The expansion, connected to the Wheeler Tower at 3208 East Michigan Street, will triple the number of single women who can be housed in 66 shelter beds and adds 84 new family unit beds.
“It helps us to get people off our gym floor into beds and give people dignity,” said Wheeler President & CEO Rick Alvis. “This will help us spread out a little bit but also expand our addiction recovery programs that we house as well because in the past we’ve only been able to house single women with addictions and this will enable us actually to take women with children into the program as well.”
One resident said that space and program limitations make services hard to come by in the current shelter.
“I was expecting some advocacy and some advice to help me push through my situation and also some resources that could help me get on my feet again,” said Chevon Cox who entered the Wheeler shelter to escape domestic violence in March. “We need to fix this because you can’t be sitting here spending all this money to provide help that you’re promoting but you’re not really doing here. There’s people leaving the shelters still in the situation they’re in.”
During Monday night’s budget address before the City-County Council, the mayor’s office revealed that $12 million has been earmarked next year to construct a low barrier shelter site for those needing emergency housing.
“Low barrier” as in more flexible rules for admittance as opposed to private non-profit shelters that provide food and beds for most of Indianapolis’ homeless community.
“The mayor intends for that $12 million to be for capital,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett, “so whether that’s construction or rehabilitation or whatever capital costs might begin to look like, that $12 million set aside in the 2022 budget would hope to cover some if not all of capital costs.”
Bennett said the Office of Public Health and Safety is awaiting the results of a $25,000 assessment study that is surveying both community stakeholders and neighbors who have encountered homelessness to determine whether an encampment location or a traditional building with access to services and programs would more appropriate.
“You could have a one-stop-shop under one roof and get access to IDs, veterans benefits, social security cards, personal services, physical health, mental health, those things could be included in a quasi-municipal facility that would really fit a gap in our system where we don’t have a one-stop-shop as it might be described,” said Bennett. “It’s been a long-standing conversation in the provider community about the need for a dozen or a couple dozen what we would call crisis beds for someone who is facing a crisis sleeping outside on a given night.”
As originally conceived last winter, a Council proposal envisioned an encampment location near downtown for those who refuse to come inside a shelter and prefer sleeping and housing their possessions in a tent.
“That is always going to be a challenge,” said Bennett. “What we would seek to do is make it as easy as possible for someone to say, ‘Yes, I will come inside,’ and we’ll keep making that option available and keep making the offers to those residents who might be sleeping in tents at any particular time.”
“I think it’s a marvelous idea. As long as they provide resources for people who want to get out of that situation, I’m all for it,” said Cox as she stood outside the Wheeler ribbon-cutting celebration. “If I had a vehicle to sleep in, I would sleep outside as opposed to being in here. I really would but right now I have no choice because of my safety. I don’t want to get hurt.”
Bennett estimates the assessment study should be completed by late next month in time for analysis and presentation to the council after the mayor’s budget is adopted in mid-October.