When we began exploring the possibility of building a tiny house village in Indianapolis, one of the first people I contacted was Susie Cordi, the City-County Councillor for my district. She helped set up a meeting with another Councillor in her party. On the day of the of the meeting, we were joined by another Councillor from the other party who happened to be at the same coffee shop. This meeting started a good relationship with these and other members of the City-County Council who expressed support for our plan.
I was disappointed on Friday to see that Councillor Cordi is now one of the primary sponsors of a new proposal being introduced at the September 24 meeting of the Council that would prevent people from sitting or lying on city streets or sidewalks in downtown Indianapolis between 6 a.m. and midnight. The proponents of this bill say that part of their goal is to encourage panhandlers that are truly homeless to take advantage of the emergency shelters that are available. In the end, though, this bill is about pushing homeless people out of the downtown entertainment and business zones. It ignores the reality that many of the people who don’t go to shelters don’t go there because they either find the environment dangerous (often the case with mental illness or addicts trying to recover) or they have been banned from the only shelters available for some rule violation.
This proposal is another reason why Indianapolis needs a tiny house village as part of it’s solution to addressing homelessness. The only emergency shelter available in Indianapolis is run by faith-based organizations that strongly encourage chapel attendance as part of their program. The largest shelter now allows an alternate class for those who don’t want to participate in the chapel meeting but those classes are still taught from a particular religious perspective. Also, the institutional approach used by the shelter does not work well for people with some mental illnesses, especially schizophonia and Asperger syndrome. This proposal does nothing to provide other options for people for who the shelters do not work and simply punishes them for needing a place to rest.
Like many cities, Indianapolis has become obsessed with the Housing First model and permanent supportive housing similar to that used in Salt Lake City, UT. What they fail to remember is that it took Utah 10 years to get to the place that it could declare success in substantially reducing chronic homelessness in their city. In the meantime, people are still being moved from unauthorized camps (some 4 times in a year). This new proposal will only add insult to injury by further criminalizing life-sustaining activity by those experiencing homelessness. Instead of creating new ways to punish people, our city officials should be helping groups that want to help with practical solutions find the property they need to provide these solutions while still working toward their long-term larger plan.
Again, Indianapolis, all we are asking for is a place and permission.