News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 31, 2013

Efforts under way to determine number of homeless in Terre Haute

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Charles Harrison looked comfortable outside Terre Haute’s Bethany House, a homeless shelter that also provides food and clothing to the city’s neediest residents. Standing across the frame of his bicycle, he laughed with a friend and joked about “living” homelessness every day, not just once in a while like some in the news media who try to “get a feel” for the experience.

Harrison, 57, is one of hundreds of homeless people in Terre Haute. On Wednesday, local not-for-profits, government agencies and volunteers went to work trying to determine the actual number of homeless people in the city.

Inside Bethany House, which is part of Catholic Charities, Misty Mills, case manager and administrative assistant for the charity, questioned each of the dozens of people who filed quietly into the dining room for a hot, mid-day meal.

“Are you homeless?” she would ask.

A few of the homeless were relatively young men apparently on their own. Others were young mothers or couples with small children. Still others were clearly older people – mostly men – with lots of gray hair.

“There are five of us,” said one young mother accompanied by a small child checking into Bethany House.

Wednesday’s effort to count the homeless was part of the nationwide “Point in Time” homeless count required by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for agencies receiving federal homeless aid.

“I wish they would take our number and double it,” Mills said as she flipped through pages representing each of the 14 homeless people she had interviewed by about noon Wednesday. The count always misses several people, she said.

The total number for this year’s count will not be known until Feb. 15, said Kelli Fuller, resident and community services coordinator for the Terre Haute Housing Authority, which is also taking part in the count. In 2011, the count showed 205 homeless people in the city. That number seemed certain to be topped this year.

The Vigo County School Corp., which does its own homeless counts for its student population, determined there were more than 200 students in insecure housing situations that could be considered homeless, according to figures provided to the Tribune-Star Wednesday.

The School Corp. recorded 148 students “doubled up” with friends, 18 “sheltered” homeless, 38 students living in hotels or motels and six completely unsheltered, said Rick Stevens, student services assistant director for the Vigo County School Corp. The six students deemed “unsheltered” include three high school students, one middle school student and two students in elementary school, Stevens said.

“They’re in a tough situation,” said Stevens, a former principal and long-time school corporation employee. “They are in pretty dire straights.”

Muriel Ryan, founder of Families by Choice, a local emergency shelter, said adolescents who are homeless sometimes “couch surf” at friends’ or relatives’ homes and can be very difficult to track.

“The adolescents really kind of go underground,” she said.

Back at Bethany House, Harrison said he has been homeless for many years. He sleeps in parks or other spots he has come to rely on, he said. On really cold nights, he tries to find businesses or places that are open all night in which to stay warm, he said. For food, Harrison, who received a meal from Bethany House Wednesday, said he also relies on family in the area.

“I sleep in a park, down in Gilbert Park,” Harrison said. “But I’m homeless all the time.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@