Let's do a thought experiment. Let's say that someone offered you your own beachfront mansion, completely rent-free, but in order to keep living in it, you had to completely change your lifestyle. Maybe that means waking up at 6am every day when you're normally a roll out of bed at 10 kind of person. Maybe it'd mean giving up meat entirely when your blood type could be classified as Bacon Positive.
You might be able to pull it off for a little bit. But eventually, you'll end up hitting snooze or ordering a bacon cheese fry. And with that one slip-up, your new lifestyle is gone.
Most programs designed to bring individuals out of homelessness function like our thought experiment. They say residents need to be clean and sober to move-in and have to stay that way to maintain their housing. They might require daily job training and interview quotas, life skills classes or addictions counseling as a prerequisite for housing. We know that doesn't work, so we don't operate that way.
Housing is the first step towards stability. Traditionally, homelessness has been addressed using a stepping stone approach, with your own home being the very top rung. That doesn't make much sense to us. If you don't have a home, you can't apply for jobs. You can't get regular medical care. You can't even receive mail. For the majority of the chronically homeless, not having stable, permanent housing is a barrier to everything else in their lives. Taking care of the housing first gives our residents the opportunity to rebuild.
Low Barriers to entry
We have some of the lowest barriers to entry in the city. Our housing is future-focused, so we don't care where you've been. We're focused on the future we can create together. This means no credit checks. Ever. We don't screen for prior evictions, because we don't care. The only felonies that will disqualify an applicant are arson and a lifetime sex offender registry. We're focused on what you can do, not what you have done.
Have you ever tried to finish a project an hour before the deadline? Half of your mental energy is spent looking at the clock rather than focusing on the task at hand. Housing is no different.
Placing a time limit on being inside--whether it's a few weeks, months or even years--guarantees that a sizable chunk of a person's focus will be spent on that time limit. This can keep individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in a state of fight or flight, making it nearly impossible to move forward on goals that can keep them housed.
We removed the time limits entirely. A resident can move in at 18 and live in their apartment until they're well into their 80s with our program.
Housing First doesn't mean Housing Only. When a resident gets their first set of keys on move-in day, they still have every challenge they had the day before. We provide support services to help our residents navigate their transition and beyond. Every single one of our residents has access to an onsite Resource Coordinator who can help navigate the social services application process, perform crisis management, find connections with outside partners and plan community meals and activities.
We also provide emergency pantries at each building and help residents find furniture and clothing donations to cover their basic needs. Staying housed is difficult, but we're with our residents every step of the way.
Getting inside means absolutely nothing if you can't stay there. Our residents have barriers like past trauma, mental and physical disabilities, and boundary issues. All of these things can make it extremely difficult to stay housed. We do everything in our power to prolong tenancy. This is where the "creative" in "creative housing solutions" comes into play.
Promise to Pay agreements help get our residents back on track with paying rent. Sometimes things happen, and we allow our residents to make small monthly payments on top of their rent to make up that missed payment. As long as we can see a good faith effort, we'll work with our residents.
Sometimes the adjustment to apartment living is difficult. We craft Personalized Housing Plans for our residents to help ease the transition. Maybe that means doing weekly check-ins. Maybe it's taking a break with visitors until things calm down. We work with our residents to ensure that an eviction is almost never an option.
Covid-19 Rent Relief
Another $15 million will be spent on rental assistance for Indianapolis residents who have been impacted by COVID-19.
The current plan for the rent assistance is an online application process, with accommodations for people without internet access.
“Families that have been affected by COVID, who have experienced job loss or reduction in work hours, or increased expenses because they’ve had to pay medical bills because they’ve gotten sick with COVID will be eligible to apply for assistance back rent [to April 1] or forward rent for a total of 90 days,” said Indianapolis Deputy Mayor of Community Development Jeff Bennett. “Any resident in the community, regardless of status, can apply for assistance.”
Any Indianapolis residents seeking more information about the rent assistance programs should check the Indy.gov/covid page, where more guidance will be posted.