News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 21, 2013

Overnight homeless simulation event postponed

Few people pre-registered for experience at Gilbert Park, none showed up

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A program aimed at letting people experience first-hand the frustrations and challenges of being homeless has been postponed.

Families By Choice had scheduled a “box-in” event simulating homelessness at Gilbert Park Friday night/Saturday morning.

But only a handful of people pre-registered and none showed up to participate Friday evening. Muriel Ryan, founder of Families by Choice, attributed the lack of turnout to cold temperatures.

She hopes to re-schedule this fall.

Among those who did show up for a program that was to occur prior to the box-in was Mayor Duke Bennett; Rick Stevens, assistant director of student services with the Vigo County School Corp.; Dale Blunk of the Terre Haute Police Department and Pastor Tom Wood.

They, along with Families by Choice staff and residents, had an hour-long discussion about homelessness and  some of the challenges it presents in the community.

“We still have needs. We have gaps,” Ryan said. “There are people we’re not serving.”

Also present was a family — an unmarried couple and their child — who had nowhere to stay Friday night. The man had a medical condition and needed his girlfriend to stay with him because of his health condition.

Stevens, a member of the Wabash Valley Local Planning Council on Homelessness, said the council met this week and members want to become better educated on homelessness in terms of what services are available and what are the  gaps.

There are situations that fall between the cracks, he said, and the council wants to know how those issues can be addressed.

The planning council recognizes the need for a more streamlined approach to help those facing homelessness. Council members also see a need for a clearinghouse that provides information about all the resources available in one place, Stevens said.

Bennett said after the meeting that those assembled discussed the “issues that need to be fixed … It’s a start. I think it’s all about working together. It’s that collaborative effort from all the entities in our community. There’s a few little holes we need to work on when it comes to people who are homeless.”

There are people on the street with nowhere to go, Bennett said. Once they have a warm place to sleep and food to eat, then, “You can help them take that next step” to a better life, he said.

There is a heightened awareness of homelessness in the community because of the tragic death on April 11 of a Connecticut man, Franschon Barr, who had sought shelter in a trash bin outside a store at 11th and Locust streets. His girlfriend, Jeanmarie A. Jackson, 42, also was in the trash bin.

The 46-year-old Barr died after being trapped inside a garbage collection truck that emptied the bin he and his girlfriend were inside.  Jackson was taken to Methodist Hospital, where she was treated for a crushed pelvis and other injuries.

Ryan said in an interview that during Friday’s meeting, she saw “a coalescence of those who understand the problem and the issues.”

They also want to see something happen.

She was disappointed by the lack of turnout for the box-in. Families by Choice sent out free registrations to more than 300 businesses and churches.

“We will continue to try to educate people about the challenges of being homeless,” she said.

Families by Choice will provide shelter for the homeless family that otherwise would be without a place to stay, she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or