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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Walking a Mile in Their Shoes

Community members experience homelessness in Aurora’s “48 Hours in the Life” project

An estimated 350 people — men, women, seniors, and children — experience homelessness in Evansville annually. While that number may seem small to some, it takes a significant number of resources to attend to the city’s homeless population. Those experiencing homelessness need shelter, meals, transportation, and health care, and stepping into permanent housing often requires things that homeless Evansvillians don’t have, such as extra funds or a government-issued I.D.

Aurora, Inc. — which provides long-term housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness — sponsors an annual experience project to put community members in the homeless population’s shoes. The inaugural “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience project in November 2021 set a dozen people on the hunt for shelter, food, and vital services needed for residential life in Evansville.

The second installment of Aurora, Inc.’s “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience project took place Nov. 17-19, 2022, coincidentally when the Tri-State was experiencing frigid, below-normal temperatures. If last year’s participants wanted a real experience, the weather certainly obliged.

Thirteen participants from multiple business and community sectors took part, volunteering to traverse the streets of Evansville in search of vital services, just as the city’s homeless population does. In the process, participants help Aurora meet three main goals for the project: to raise awareness (many participants livestreamed parts of their experiences); raise funds for Aurora’s housing programs; and support the workers who provide these crucial services to those in need.

When the group met to debrief on the morning of Nov. 19, two things were clear: being homeless is hard, and Evansville does not have enough services to meet current needs, but it’s on the right track. Part of Aurora’s mission with the project is to drum up support for more resources for the local homeless population, so we went straight to the source. We asked participants to share their “48 Hours in the Life” experience with us. Here are a few of their stories. — Jodi Keen

Photo of Kim Wren and Bobbie Ann McGrew provided by Kim Wren

Organizations come through for Evansville’s homeless community
By Kim Wren

Participating in Aurora, Inc.’s 2022 “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience project was one of the most eyeopening experiences of my life.

In our brief time, we experienced the hamster wheel of surviving day to day without reliable shelter, transportation, food, and financial resources. My partner in the homeless experience, Bobbie Ann McGrew, and I ended each day exhausted from walking across the city of Evansville seeking agency resources, getting to meal services on time, and securing a place to sleep each night. It was challenging, to say the least, and raised awareness of my own everyday privileges, such as having an I.D. card, cell phone, and car to get around town.

One of the most important lessons I learned is there are many paths to experiencing housing and food insecurity. From victims of elaborate dating app scams to those with mental health crises, the people experiencing homelessness who we interacted with firsthand came from diverse and often unexpected backgrounds. I walked away with a deepened sense of compassion, empathy, and a commitment to suspend all judgment.

Though we recognized the many needs going unmet in our region, I also was moved by the vast resources available here in Evansville to support those trying to secure safe housing, food, and employment. To name a few organizations, we were helped immensely by the staff at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Central branch. They provided free access to an array of resources in a judgment-free space. I was thankful for the services offered by Feed Evansville, United Caring Services, Evansville Rescue Mission, Albion Fellows Bacon Center, and, of course, Aurora.

A persistent challenge we faced was simply getting around town without a car. Apart from walking, we mostly traveled by METS bus. We found bus timetables sometimes were unreliable and the routes unclear. Once, we accidentally boarded a bus headed the opposite direction we needed to go, parting with precious bus tokens in the process. Daily service doesn’t begin until after 6 a.m., which could make us late for our first meal of the day.

From the “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience, I am convinced there is a great opportunity for our METS bus system to better meet the needs of those who rely on public transportation for education, employment, and medical services. Improving the reliability and efficiency of public transportation in Evansville will only raise the quality of life attainable in this city we call home.

Kim Wren taught music at Thompkins Middle School before joining Baird Private Wealth Management in 2021 as a financial advisor. The Atlanta, Georgia, native has called Evansville home since 2014.

Photo of Noah Stubbs provided by Noah Stubbs

Permanent supportive housing helps families step up and out of homelessness
By Noah Stubbs

“Society expects you to immediately pick yourself up and out of homelessness,” Katie said as I walked into her office. “Nobody has the strength to do that alone.”

I was 27 hours into Aurora’s “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience project when I met Katie. She’s an Aurora, Inc. case manager at a permanent supportive housing (PSH) facility here in Evansville.

When I sat down with her to inquire about affordable housing solutions, I was tired, hungry, and cold. I had been on my feet for 15 miles.

I skipped out on lunch to make our appointment on time. My right hand was frozen, chapped, and bloodied from trekking around in 20-degree temperatures.

“We’re here to help families,” Katie continued. “We advocate for them.”

PSH combines affordable housing and support services. Katie is a social worker, and her office is inside an apartment complex. She provides direct support to families who rent. This type of housing solution is often the first step up and out for families experiencing homelessness.

“It provides fundamental shelter in a physical space,” Katie said. “But for people who rent here, it provides emotional shelter, as well.”

She said many families entering PSH are in the process of reorganizing and bettering their lives: finding stable jobs, seeking physical and mental health solutions, and looking for affordable childcare.

“(PSH) gives families time and flexibility to figure things out,” Katie said.

And she’s there to help fill day-to-day gaps in families’ lives. Katie helps them complete paperwork and job applications. She makes trips to the drugstore. She’s also in touch with the site coordinator at a nearby school to make sure parents are aware of during and after school activities.

Katie isn’t alone. Throughout my “48 Hours” experience, I met an army of caseworkers and volunteers who — like Katie — are compassionate and supportive of our community’s most vulnerable population.

And I walked away from our meeting with an understanding that as a community, we — in turn — should be compassionate and supportive of all who advocate and fight for people experiencing homelessness.

Noah Stubbs is the director of communications for the City of Evansville. He is an Evansville native and a graduate of North High School.

Photo of Paul Green and (sitting) Thomas Stratton provided by Paul Green

Project is eye opening, even for those who assist Aurora
By Paul Green

I have been involved with organizations dedicated to helping those in our community experiencing homelessness for several years. Having said that, I assumed that I would not be surprised a great deal by the experience.

The thing I did not realize was how lengthy of a process it is sometimes to go from experiencing homelessness to actually acquiring a home. First, there have to be homes available. Then there are other factors, some of which I knew, that hamper the process. Some are acquiring an address and a state-issued I.D., which is necessary to gain employment.

I was impressed by how most of the people were helpful to each other, especially to us. I’m sure they could tell we were clueless. An elderly gentleman sat at the table with us and observed us looking around in an effort to figure out what we needed to do to receive our evening meal.

Without asking, he began to explain to us not only what to do, but where we could get snacks for a later time. As heartbreaking as the experience was, it was extremely comforting to know, and witness, the compassion they have for others. With these folks, every meal and access to shelter are part of survival.

At the time of Aurora, Inc.’s “48 Hours in the Life” homeless experience project, we were experiencing some of the coldest weather we had had in 2022. We were fortunate to find shelter each of the two nights, and United Caring Services had its white flag out, enabling non-residents to come in from the elements. It is very difficult for me to imagine how miserable it would be to have to spend the night out on the street in this kind of weather. This is in large part why I felt compelled to participate in the process, knowing that a portion of the funds we raised would enable UCS to continue displaying the white flag for those experiencing homelessness.

I was happy to learn more about the organizations that work diligently every day to support our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness. They do a wonderful job, but unfortunately, there are not enough resources. To a large degree, our community — that includes individuals, unions, businesses, and other organizations — is sympathetic to the less fortunate.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe it’s an easy life not having to work and getting free food and shelter. These are the people I challenge to get involved and learn, but most of all, experience “48 hours in the life.” I guarantee it will change your entire outlook on life.

Paul Green is a Somerville, Indiana, native who moved from Oakland City, Indiana, to Evansville in 1997. He retired in 2020 as IBEW Local 16’s business manager and serves as vice president on Aurora’s board of directors.

Evansville completed its 2023 point-in-time count in late January. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the count provides a snapshot of the number and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness in Evansville on a single night. HUD then aggregates the local data as a snapshot of homelessness nationally and uses PIT data in its strategic planning for future programs to address homelessness. This year’s aggregated local data results are expected back from HUD this summer. For more information, visit Aurora’s website or the Commission on Homelessness.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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