No place called home
The new face of the homeless is a face you know. More often these days, it is the face of a child.
In an instant, a family can go from a suburb to a shelter. The economy is that fragile. New numbers just released show the average age of a homeless child in Indianapolis is now seven years old. The new homeless are not the panhandlers on the street but your child's classmate or your former neighbor.
Nightfall brings storytime for Chad Goode and his little girls. By day, Marissa and Madison Goode, 6 and 7, are straight A students who play as hard as they work. Their favorite subject is math, and there's a pecking order with these sisters:
"I get the top bunk. I get the bottom bunk!"
They understand the reason why they sleep in a room with their parents.
"They're old enough to know what's going on. This is something they'll probably remember the rest of their lives," said Goode.
Home is now a small room at Dayspring center, one of the few family homeless shelters in Indianapolis.
"My fiancée and my youngest daughter Marissa sleep right here. I sleep right here and my older daughter Madison sleeps right here," said Goode, explaining the tight accommodations.
"It was really hard at first," said Madison.
Their room is a microcosm of their former life. Chad Goode and his fiancée both lost their jobs, housing, and savings within three months. They never thought it would happen to them.
Tim Joyce heads the Coalition for Homelessness Prevention and Intervention. In its ninth year, he's watched the numbers change with the economy, and he's seen a 78-percent increase in one year alone.
"Within three months, within four months, I can't make the payment; can't make up what were behind on and I don't know what to do," he said, describing the situation his clients find themselves facing.
Sally Bindley, founder of School on Wheels, has spent a decade bringing backpacks, books and tutors to homeless kids. She works with Madison and Marissa.
"There are kids out there that are homeless and they don't have bad parents. They have parents who have fallen on bad times. There's a big difference there," said Bindley.
School on Wheels has 500 volunteer tutors who meet homeless kids where they live.
"They're every child. These children are no different from the children I taught. The children in my neighborhood or the children I raised at home. They're children," said Rhonda Ehrlich, volunteer tutor.
Sometimes they are invisible children, by choice. Kelecia Crim hid her homeless status while in high school.
"I just decided to keep it to myself," she said, adding that "very especially in high school," students can be "very mean."
3,000 Marion County school children receive homeless services each year. Outreach, a Christian ministry which started on the streets, changed Kelecia's life by putting Renee Bacon at her school.
Outreach caseworkers like Renee have clients in every IPS school.
Kelecia is on a track of excellence. She's valedictorian, has enrolled in nursing school, has a new home, a job, and she's engaged to the father of her little boy.
But for kids living on the street, it's a gritty existence. Hope is day to day and meal to meal.
Ashley is three months pregnant and living in a tent by the river in Indianapolis. Outreach street teams come to her. She's been there for eight or nine months already.
People living in the "tent city" bathe with campfire water from a Styrofoam cooler and visit the Outreach drop-in center to get meals.
Skip, a construction contractor and volunteer cook, is in the kitchen every Thursday.
"They all got a big bag of problems and you can't solve em. You just gotta sit there and listen and be regular. Every week is more important than what I'm making. They don't have anybody regular in their life for the most part," said Skip.
"I think over 15 years we are starting to see a more aggressive street youth," said Eric Howard, Outreach founder. "Our street youth are at greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking."
Ashley's baby is due in November. She showed us a hatchet, which she says she uses for protection.
But in the long run, her child is at risk. Homeless children are statistically more likely to become homeless adults.
Chad Goode, meantime, is grateful for the shelter. Dayspring staff help him research jobs online each morning and he meets the girls at the bus stop every afternoon.
"First thing they do is jump off the bus and hug me. That's always a warm feeling when they do that," said Goode.
But as day turns to night, anxiety builds.
"You're busy during the day and at night you're laying down, it's quiet and all you got to do is think," he said. "It gets to you every night, but I don't let them see it get to me."
As the moon comes up, so do the inevitable questions.
"They talk to us at night about the situation we're in and we explain we gotta keep praying, keep hope. Life goes on and we'll get out of this situation," he said.