New study finds Indianapolis homelessness increasing

A homeless person in downtown Indianapolis (WTHR file photo from May 2013)

A new study finds the number of homeless people in Indianapolis on the rise due to job loss.

The study by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute for the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP) estimates the city's homeless population to be anywhere from 4,800 to 8,000.

While the total number of homeless in downtown Indianapolis decreased from the previous year, the study says there was a 20-percent increase in people becoming homeless because they're out of work.

The study's organizers say Indianapolis has made "great strides" in helping its homeless population, but that the Circle City still has a long way to go compared with other Midwest cities of its size, like Columbus, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Fewer homeless people (a 31 percent decrease) are living on the street (unsheltered), and fewer families are homeless, the study found.

But veterans are hit particularly hard, with a 21-percent increase in homelessness for Indianapolis compared to the national average decreasing by 18 percent. Veterans make up a quarter of the homeless population.

Among the obstacles homeless people face are long waiting lists for affordable housing, as well as substance abuse problems that might make them ineligible for those lists. Lack of comprehensive public transportation options is also a barrier.

To help those who are waiting for affordable housing, the 100K Homes Campaign created a Housing Committee to streamline the application process. A federally subsidized program called Shelter Care Plus also helps applicants.

Aside from job loss, being evicted or asked to leave their accommodation, people responding to the study also listed incarceration, domestic violence and health issues as reasons for becoming homeless.

Among the general findings from the study, of those experiencing homelessness:

· The majority are young females (usually with families) and older, single males.

· The majority are African American. Whites are unsheltered more than any other ethnic group.

· One quarter (25 percent) are employed.

· The majority (77 percent) have a high school education or higher.

· Although there was a decrease of 15 percent in the number of families, there still is a significant portion of families without permanent housing. And there is an increase in the average size of the families experiencing homelessness.

· While some receive various forms of social security, enrollment in aid programs is relatively low.

· Chronic substance abuse is the primary medical condition, followed by mental illness.

· While 18 percent have a felony conviction, the percentage doubles in being unsheltered (36 percent)

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