Brad Byrd was joined by Executive Director of Aurora Brian Kerney to discuss homelessness in our community and what you can do to help.
Brad – Welcome to In-Depth. It is sometimes hiding in plain sight, sometimes depending upon your perception, right before your eyes in clear daylight. We are talking about tonight about people who are homeless. I’m joined now by Brian Kerney. He is the Executive Director of Aurora, a non-profit that is part of a long-time local effort to end homelessness in Evansville.
Brian, first of all, let’s first define the person who is homeless and perhaps take down some of those stereotypes, like the man sleeping on a park bench with newspapers for a blanket.
Brian – Sure. I mean, in general, the homeless are our neighbors, our residents. They’re single moms. They’re single individuals. They’re families. They’re children. The homeless are, a lot of times people are… that are living in cars or places not meant for habitation. Shelters. Abandoned homes. They’re everywhere. We… in general, we run about 425 individuals every single night that are homeless in our county.
Brad – And local agencies that deal with homelessness are urging people – and not to sound insensitive – to not give money to individuals who we have all seen along the highway, sometimes right in the median of six-lane highways in the Evansville area, to not give them money. Why?
Brian – Well it, you know, it’s really tough to say as far as who is actually homeless and who isn’t. But we… Aurora has a street team and we’re interacting with individuals every day who are homeless. And we know, that in general, a high percentage, could be 85, could be 90, could even be higher than 90, those individuals who are panhandling are actually not homeless. So, we find that if you are giving to those individuals, you’re actually potentially just feeding an addiction. I have seen a study that says that for every $10 you give a panhandler, it’s costing our community over $1,000 in services that we provide to those individuals because of those addictions.
Brad – And it’s often holding the cardboard sign and EPD released a statistic about how much money these individuals can make. That was surprising almost.
Brian – It’s very surprising. I mean, no one actually knows, but they think that it’s somewhere close to $100 an hour that a panhandler might be making. And so if our community continues to give to those individuals, not only is it enabling them and helping to feed an addiction, but you’re going to continue to see a growing number of individuals panhandling because it’s becoming like a business.
Brad – Alright. And Aurora was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority for two years to help those people who are coming out of jail or prison. How big of a problem is this? We’ve been talking about this a lot, right here at this table.
Brian – Yes.
Brad – But how big of a problem is that and what are you up against?
Brian – Well, it’s a huge problem. We know that our jail is often overcrowded and there’s lots of talk about expanding the jail. But, how about we come up with a solution that actually reduces those individuals that are going to jail and this program is one of the ways to do that. We partner with individuals even before they’re released and then we have a case manager, we actually have a couple case managers, that works with individuals and we provide rental assistance for a period of time to help them stabilize.
Brad – Another $300,000 grant is to help those people who may have some type of substance abuse problem or possibly has suffered from mental illness.
Brian – Yeah, there’s two different grants. I mean, we can’t be more thrilled to receive two different grants in the last six months for $300,000, which will enable us to serve more individuals. But back to that re-entry grant, recidivism rates are around 40 percent. If an individual works with Aurora, while we’re working with them it’s about 8 percent. Brad, we just did a study, well we wonder how they’re doing three years after the fact. It’s 18 percent. So we know that if they work with Aurora, or a case manager, that we can reduce our recidivism rate by more than 50 percent. One of the other big reasons, referring to the second grant for $300,000, that why people are homeless, is they often struggle with mental health issues or substance abuse. We’re thrilled to have extra money now for our community to help individuals in that situation.
Brad – And then there is the problem with poverty. And you’re very familiar with these numbers. The poverty line in Evansville is 21 percent. And then there’s also the other line where a family can be just, as you say, a paycheck away from being homeless.
Brian – That’s right. United Way does a study called the ALICE rate, and it identifies 43 percent, which equates to about 80,000 people, in Vanderburgh county alone that are literally one paycheck away from being homeless. It’s almost cliche to say that, and maybe we roll our eyes, oh come on, but in reality, we do have a significant number, almost half of our population is one paycheck away from being homeless. Brad, we have 2,300 unique individuals every year who fall into homelessness. This is a big problem in our community.
Brad – And unfortunately the tragedy in this too is there are kids. How many kids are in this situation and is there a way you can track that?
Brian – You know, EVSC reports 500 students find themselves homeless. That includes individuals who are moving from house to house to house. We would work with anybody and everybody who would come to our doors. But we tend to primarily work with those who are without any shelter at all.
Brad – Sometimes, it’s within a family. Perhaps maybe, uh, Uncle John comes over and let’s let him stay for a couple of nights. And it’s a constant movement around. If you’re in a situation like that, and it’s involving someone in your family, what do you do?
Brian – Well I would say the first thing to do is come to Aurora. And I sincerely mean that. Even if you don’t qualify for one of our programs, our case managers are well equipped to help refer you to another organization or basically to guide you along a path so you could stabilize. And sometimes it’s just helping them find a job or making a referral.
Brad – And of course you’ve been partnering with a lot of other key agencies. ECHO for example. There’s also other staples in the Evansville community, such as the Evansville Rescue Mission. So, it is a problem that is not going away.
Brian – Yeah, unfortunately it’s not going away. We are doing better as a community in making the instances less frequent and when someone unfortunately does start experiencing homelessness, that is is shorter in duration. So we have seen a drop in what’s called chronic homelessness, long term homelessness, in our community. So that’s a great thing that we’re trying to track.
Brad – Alrighty. Brian Kerney who is the Executive Director of Aurora, thank you so much for talking about a tough subject but I know you’re immersed in this battle. Thanks so much for being here tonight.
(This story was originally published July 19, 2018)