On the corner of Michigan and Garfield streets in the Jacobsville area of Evansville sit three stories of patriotic refuge. The 27-unit apartment building — a product of the local nonprofit organization ECHO Housing Corporation — opened in December 2011, equipped with amenities such as a security system, swipe card entry system, laundry facilities, and furniture. Already, 22 of the 480-square-foot, one-person apartments have been filled with deserving tenants: disabled and homeless military veterans.
For 13 years, ECHO, created by the Evansville Coalition for the Homeless, has been fighting homelessness in the Tri-State. Prior to the veteran housing (Lucas Place II), the corporation created a 20-unit transitional apartment complex (Lucas Place) for homeless families in Vanderburgh County; a leasing assistance program for homeless families and individuals with disabilities (New Start); and 30 rental units for those with low to moderate incomes.
Michael Caudill, ECHO’s program director, says currently the primary focus is Jacobsville, designated by the city of Evansville as a “redevelopment area,” where more than 35 percent of residents, as well as more than 50 percent of children, are below the poverty line. Further, when ECHO began its quest, it used 2000 census data, which indicated Vanderburgh County had a higher percentage of homeless persons per capita than any other county in Indiana — one out of three being military veterans. Along with former mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel’s “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Evansville and Vanderburgh County,” ECHO is determined to end the statistics that haunt the city. With several housing programs, including the veteran apartments, which are the only permanent housing for military veterans in Indiana, the organization is determined to give out as many fresh starts as possible.
That doesn’t mean everyone will find his or her home-sweet-home. Dawn Tedrow, the case manager of the Lucas Place II project, says each vet must go through an application and background check before qualifying for the housing. First, the applicant must be able to prove they are homeless. “They can’t be doubled up on someone’s couch or living with a niece,” says Tedrow; they must obtain proof from homeless shelters such as Aurora to confirm they are homeless. Other requirements include proof of military service, at least 60 days spent in active duty, and an honorable discharge from their branch. “We also don’t accept domestic violence offenders,” says Tedrow, “and they cannot be on the sex offender’s registry.” Less than half of the more than 50 applicants were chosen.
Each of the individuals have either a physical, mental, or chronic disability. With one-on-one financial planning assistance and monthly support groups, Tedrow is able to observe each veteran, being the eyes and ears for their doctors. The idea is to show them how to be self-sufficient, she says. “The first year is to get them used to having a home again.”