News From Terre Haute, Indiana


July 22, 2013

Hidden from sight, but homeless just the same

No blame game, but extended family looking for a little help

TERRE HAUTE — With tears streaming down his face as he sat on a chair in the lower level of Ryves Hall Friday, a father of five told the story of how his family’s life changed from hoping for a better life to just hoping for a roof over their heads.

Three weeks ago, the Smith family (a fictitious name given by the family to protect the children’s privacy), consisting of a father, mother, five children and a grandmother (the mother’s mom), arrived in the Wabash Valley in their minivan from a former home in the South.

Like many families across the nation, the Smiths faced economic hardship. “We were gonna lose the house,” Smith said.

They decided to move north because the pay from the job of the sole provider (the father) was not enough to support the large family, Smith said.

He said his wife stayed at home to care for their five children. While still in their previous home state, she applied for many jobs but without extensive work experience, she was unsuccessful.

“It was hard to afford housing,” Smith, the father, told the Tribune-Star.

“I spent every bit of money I had getting here,” he added.

With his family in the Wabash Valley, Smith thought, he could start again at the place he called home for 20 years.

Their plan was to move to Indiana, get jobs, get the children ready for school and, with the help of Smith’s brother, secure a loan for a house.

But upon setting foot in the area, Smith learned that the loan “fell through.”

“Everything just fell apart,” he said of what happened next.

The family found itself stranded in the area. They became homeless.

“I don’t blame anybody … but I need some help,” Smith said.

The Unseen Homeless

What happened next was something the family will forever share with the experiences of thousands of homeless Americans.

The Smiths put their money together to stay at a motel in the area while in the process of seeking help from shelters and local organizations. But they’ve had some tough nights.

“We spent a night at a Walmart parking lot Wednesday night with eight people in the van,” Smith said. Tearfully, he described how hard it was to look at his kids while inside the van, amidst the warm summer night.

“Daddy, I can’t sleep. Daddy, it’s hot,” his children whose ages range from 8 to 19 apparently told him.

“I feel like I let them all down,” the head of household said in tears.

While wiping his eyes, he continued, “They told me they love me and [that] it ain’t my fault, but it doesn’t change how I feel.”

“My kids deserve so much better,” he said.

Families like the Smiths are among the fastest growing homeless subpopulations throughout the nation, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The family may be hidden inside its van for the night, but the problems remain.

According to a 2005 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 600,000 homeless families spend at least one night sleeping in shelters, cars or abandoned buildings every year.

“They are hidden from us,” the report said, “living in their cars, in campgrounds, in shelters, or, if they are lucky, in motels or short-term apartments. The fact that they are unseen should not lead us to believe that the problem of homelessness among families is somehow less critical or severe than it is for the single adults whom we do see on the streets.

“Living in these families are mothers, fathers, grandparents and, perhaps most appallingly, 1.35 million children,” according to the same report, titled “Family Homelessness in our Nation and Community: Problem with a Solution.”

Multi-generational homeless

The Smith family started exploring housing options after realizing its hopes of getting a loan for a house was impossible. Smith contacted local shelters during the first week of moving to the area. But the family’s condition is not simple. One, its is a large family. Two, is is a three-generation family. Three, the oldest generation — grandma — has dementia and has previously suffered a stroke.

“She’s not capable of self-care,” said Muriel Ryan, co-founder of Families By Choice and a member of the local homeless coalition. She met the family and has been helping it.

During their first week, Smith said, he contacted the local shelters in town. Some are full but one was able to accommodate them, with one caveat: grandma has to stay at a different facility.

Smith and Ryan said that the reason is that shelters in the area are able to accommodate only two-generation families (parents and their children). So, three-generation families often have to split up.

“We can’t do that,” Smith said, explaining that the family was concerned about splitting up. He said that grandma will be alone at a “strange area” in a “different part of the U.S.” and “we have to worry about what’s happening to her.”

“In my eyes, family is family” he said, adding that he doesn’t make a distinction between nuclear and extended families.

“It’s my wife’s mother. ... We love her. It’s mom,” he said.

Upon meeting the family, Ryan recognized the problem.

“Every time I think we’ve identified homeless needs, something else pops up,” she said.

“This issue is a three-generation family … with the oldest generation being health and mental health fragile,” Ryan said.

“The family desires to stay together. … I think their request is perfectly reasonable,” she said.

“Family is one word”

The issue the Smith family ran into is an issue that many multi-generational homeless families face, both locally and across the country.  

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “shelter and transitional housing are often ill-equipped to meet the needs of the full range of families, including two-parent households, single fathers with young children, and multi-generational households.”

Some shelters are just not able to accommodate certain populations, according to a report by the United Way of Central Maryland.

Citing Baltimore City as an example, the report indicates examples of homeless shelter limitations.

“There are no shelters that take men with children, there are no shelters for families with teenage boys, and there are space limitations in shelters for intact and multi-generational families. Accordingly, homeless families, in many cases, must be separated at the very time they need each other the most,” according to the report.

The Smith family refused to split up.

“I believe family is family. Family is one word. … I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it,” Smith said, adding that his wife and children agreed with him, saying that they “can’t do that to grandma.”

Falling into the gap

The Smith family experience is an example of a gap that exists in serving the homeless.

“They’re another example where we’re not meeting the needs of the homeless,” Ryan said.

Another advocate, Jeff Lorick, co-chair of the Wabash Valley Planning Council on Homelessness and director of the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission, also sees the gap.

“There are a whole network of people that fall outside of the established rules of the shelters,” Lorick said.

Three-generational homeless families is just one of them.

Lorick said that “other persons excluded by the rules from some shelters and housing programs” are unwed couples and certain types of felons especially sex offenders and violent offenders.

Ryan also gave those examples and added that not all agencies can accommodate people that are “health fragile.”

“We have to find a way to be able to deal with those disenfranchised communities,” Lorick said of these homeless populations that “fall into the gap.”

Is there a solution?

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness report, many programs across the nation are implementing efforts to end homelessness. The report says that preventing families from becoming homeless in the first place is an important component to plans for ending the problem.

And because family homelessness is largely driven by the lack of affordable housing, the report says, the availability of more affordable housing options is important.

Closer to home, the Indiana Planning Council on the Homeless is addressing the problem at the state level.

The council is gathering data on homeless populations and services to identify homeless needs.

Locally, shelters use the a state data collection system for the homeless “which determines the funding given to our community to help our homeless population,” Lorick said.

He said that getting “a better grasp” of the homeless populations falling into the gap will help in better addressing their needs.

Lorick, who also met with the Smith family, said that what the family is going through is “heartbreaking.”

Its needs sound familiar.

“I want my children to be safe, be able to rest in a bed, and the family to stay together,” Smith said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell


Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • MET071114  St bens ellis.jpg Annual St. Ben’s community festival kicks off

    The St. Ben's Community Festival kicked off Friday night and continues from 5 p.m. until midnight today.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET 071114 DELISH GREENE.jpg Adding to the mix

    The mix of local food choices will get a fresh stir in the near future, as a café opens a second location, a pizza place moves downtown and a national chain sprouts in two more spots.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET071114 guard bennett.jpg Shift from jets to intelligence

    Loud, impressive fighter jets once zoomed regularly across the sky in Terre Haute, their roars drowning out the sounds of televisions and telephones all around the area.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos 2 Stories

  • MET 071114 MANN P.C..jpg Candidates’ views clash over more education testing, vouchers

    Indiana needs to change direction to improve education, said Democrat Jim Mann, who will face incumbent Rep. Robert Heaton, R-Terre Haute, in a rematch race for Indiana House District 46.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET071114bad check.jpg Fraudulent checks with an extra ‘t’

    A Terre Haute woman who received a large check in the mail this week wants to warn others that though the check looks legitimate, it is a scam.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Truck, van collide, stopping some U.S. 41 lanes for an hour

    Northbound traffic on U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute was blocked for about one hour Friday because of a two vehicle crash.

    July 11, 2014

  • council mtg 013.JPG Mayor: City will not file bankruptcy

    The Terre Haute City Council took well more than  an hour to ask questions and discuss the health of the city’s finances with top city officials in a special meeting Thursday night. A few councilmen expressed grave concern about the financial picture, while Mayor Duke Bennett said things were improving.

    July 10, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • State official threatens prosecution of city leaders who talk about audit

    A state official has threatened to pursue the prosecution of city officials if they violate a confidentiality agreement signed last month.

    July 10, 2014

  • MET 071014 181 02EXPO.jpg ISU, 181st Intelligence Wing show off capabilities at expo

    Communication and getting unmanned eyes in the sky can be vital parts of responding to a natural or man-made disaster.

    July 10, 2014 3 Photos 1 Story

  • Feds relent: Military to restore equipment program for fire departments

    An agreement has been reached to keep surplus military equipment rolling into rural fire department bays in Indiana and 47 other states.

    July 10, 2014

  • united way.jpg UW kicks off pilot campaign

    Dottie King remembers the day she saw a young man leaving St. Ann’s Dental Clinic after having 17 teeth pulled. He had not received sufficient dental care before that day so his need was dramatic. That was unlike King, who had visited the dentist regularly since childhood, but still found getting a tooth filled not on her list of fun things to do. “I thought to myself, ‘I never have thought about the blessing of dental care,’” King recalled, sharing that story on Thursday morning with other volunteers for the United Way of the Wabash Valley.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 071014 181 HILL.jpg Indiana’s director of homeland security sees unmanned systems’ potential

    Integrating unmanned flight systems into use for domestic surveillance can provide first responders with key information in responding to fires, earthquakes and man-made disasters, said John Hill, director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Stunt performer scheduled to be at Wigwam

    A celebrity stunt man named Jim “Crash” Moreau is scheduled to perform at Terre Haute’s Wigwam Skate and Event Center on Saturday.

    July 10, 2014

  • Rain barrels offered for sale

    The Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation District is taking orders for 55-gallon rain barrels.

    July 10, 2014

  • Ash.jpg Tips lead to meth lab bust

    Two people were arrested after police busted a clandestine methamphetamine lab Thursday in the 2200 block of Fourth Avenue in Terre Haute.

    July 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • MET070914 house exterior.jpg Historic Ohio Boulevard house inspired by 1948 Cary Grant movie

    Spurred in 1948 by a newly released movie staring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, coupled with a growing post-World War II housing market, General Electric partnered with Hollywood’s RKO Studios to build “dream homes” throughout the country.

    July 9, 2014 4 Photos 1 Story

  • Detour ahead

    A panel of public and private officials is calling for $10 billion in projects to upgrade Indiana’s aging roads and bridges, but its members concede there’s no money to pay for it all.

    July 9, 2014

  • MET070814 barrels.jpg MARK BENNETT: Making road work a barrel of fun for drivers

    We’re lucky orange barrels can’t talk.

    July 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • City Council to take up city finances tonight

    The Terre Haute City Council will have a chance in a special meeting tonight to delve deeply into the city’s financial health. However, council members are being asked to avoid raising the most controversial subject of recent weeks: The city’s use of Redevelopment Commission tax increment finance (TIF) money.

    July 9, 2014

  • Bennett accepts $5,000 fine in ethics settlement

    Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has agreed to pay $5,000 as part of a settlement with Indiana’s ethics watchdog in which he admits to using state resources for campaign work but is cleared of formal ethics violations in the grade-change scandal that cost him his job as Florida’s schools chief last year.

    July 9, 2014

  • Vermillion Jail trusties face new charges

    Two former inmate trusties at the Vermillion County Jail face new criminal charges after a recently discovered security breach at the jail.

    July 9, 2014

  • Lawrence police acquire armored military vehicle

    A central Indiana city has acquired an armored military vehicle for use in highly dangerous situations.

    July 9, 2014

  • Free carwash for law enforcement

    Mike’s Carwash locations in Central Indiana, including Terre Haute, will honor the sacrifice of IMPD Officer Perry Renn and thank all those who serve and protect our communities with a free carwash for police and emergency personnel today and Friday.

    July 9, 2014

  • MET070814 voice four.jpg Hitting a high note

    A 17-year-old from Casey, Ill., won “The Voice of the Valley” Tuesday night, singing and shaking his hips and legs to an Elvis Presley song, then wooing the grandstand audience at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds with a country tune.

    July 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • MET 070814 STORM STAUNTON.jpg Clay County residents clean up debris, get power back

    Several power outages still affected hundreds of Duke Energy customers on Tuesday, more than 24 hours after storms and strong winds swept through west-central Indiana, leaving a swath of damage in the Staunton, Brazil and Center Point areas.

    July 9, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET 052106 EVANBAYH ADDRESS.jpg Return to Indiana?

    Evan Bayh is keeping Indiana Democrats on hold.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Planning under way for 2014 Downtown Block Party

    Wabash Avenue will be full of activity Aug. 23 as the 2014 Downtown Terre Haute Block Party takes over five city blocks in a celebration of music, food and events.

    July 8, 2014

  • MET 070814 CATHOLIC WARE.jpg VIDEO UPDATE: Guys give food bank a lift

    A $14,000 donation Tuesday from Guys Who Give enables Catholic Charities to be at nearly 75 percent of its $2.5 million goal to purchase and operate a new, larger food bank near Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

    July 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • wilson,robert.jpg ‘Dangerous’ suspect in police custody

    A man sought by the Vermillion County Sheriff's Department has been nabbed by police in Indianapolis.

    July 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • eBus brings financial empowerment to town

    A 40-foot long mobile classroom is scheduled to roll  into Terre Haute today, carrying what its sponsors call “financial empowerment.”

    July 8, 2014

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Joy Fills Streets of Cleveland As LeBron Returns Raw: Rebel Leader Weds in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Israel, Gaza Exchange Rocket Fire Ana Ortiz on 'Devious Maids' Finale Police: Prostitute Linked to 2nd Death Diaz and Segel Strip Off for 'Sex Tape' Arizona Mom of Missing Baby Released From Prison Texas Shooting Suspect Collapses in Court Proposed Bill to Regulate NY Costumed Characters WH: LeBron's Move a 'Powerful Statement' Death Toll Tops 100 As Israel Offense Continues Raw: Australia Hosts Annual Beer Can Regatta Raw: Protesters, Israeli Security Forces Clash Robot Writes Jewish Torah Scroll Man Flees Police in World Cup Scalping Scheme More Immigrants Detained Along Rio Grande Children Face Deportation Without Attorneys Wendy Williams Sees Turning 50 As Fabulous Raw: Militants, Israelis Exchange Rocket Fire Raw: Airstrike Creates Chaos on Gaza Streets
NDN Video
Cleveland welcomes home LeBron Houston Killer Collapses in Court When Read Capital Murder Charges for Allegedly Killing Family of Six Worst Valet Ever Wrecks $500K Lamborghini Glee Star Becca Tobin's Boyfriend Matt Bendik Found Dead in Hotel Aerial fish restocking in Utah ScarJo Channels Marilyn Monroe Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration Tiny Hamsters Who Ate Burritos are Back for a Tiny Hedgehog's Party Watch Kelly Ripa Get Soaked! 'Referee' Hands Out Yellow Cards for Social Faux Pas in NYC 2014 Emmy Nominees: 8 Snub Shockers Emma Watson Is Va-Va-Voom in Valentino 7 Infamous Sports Blowouts Argentina tops Holland in World Cup semifinals News flush: Japanese toilet exhibition making a splash Emmy Nominations: What to Watch For 'Game of Thrones' Leads 66th Emmy Awards Nominations Photographic 'Proof' That LeBron Is Leaving Miami - @TheBuzzeronFOX Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010

Real Estate News