Into the Woods with Evansville’s Homeless

Local News

You don’t have to look hard to see a bright orange tent, tucked in the woods off Weinbach Avenue in Evansville. Growing up poor in the River City, this has been his home for the last four months.

But even he doesn’t call it that.

“I’ve been homeless for like 20-something years,” mutters Ronnie Storey.

He’s bundled in a few layers of sweat shirts and coveralls, sitting in a plastic lawn chair outside his abode among the forest in the middle of suburbia.

More than a half-million people in the U.S. are homeless, with almost 6,000 in the Hoosier state. The numbers are shrinking locally, but by recent counts the issue isn’t improving in Evansville.

The homeless rate from 2015 in Illinois is down 12 percent. Kentucky has dropped more than 6 percent. Indiana has the smallest change, down just 1 percent.

Storey is part of a problem not going away.

Through a gap in the fence behind Goodwill, Storey survives day by day with some help from his friend, Kevin Willis who’s only known the homeless life for a year.

“I had a excellent apartment and a good job and just went downhill,” Willis says

Together, they get assistance from Aurora; an agency giving hope to those who seem to have none.

“I lost my job,” Willis adds with a long pause. “I just went to the streets.”

Aurora’s annual count of the homeless population in Evansville is not yet final but the number is expected to remain much the same as last year, around 450 to 500 people.

They say Evansville has the highest percentage of homelessness in the state, per capita.

As of 2011, more than 15 percent of Vanderburgh County residents live below the poverty line, compared to 14 percent at the state level.

Evansville leaders have recently helped raise more than $100,000 for various agencies. Aurora says it’s crucial to simply build more homes.

Aurora leaders believe the city will soon get enough funding to stem the tide, but it may take a few years to build enough housing units to make a dent.

Thanks to a dent in the fence, something close to a home can be had for Storey.

After 20 years, it’s still hard to get used to.

“I got to survive,” he says, “either that or lay down and die.”

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