“We need help,” said Karee Buffin, Fund Developer at Bridges Community Services. “That is the bottom line for me, the more we want to do, we are going to need help doing it.”

This cry for help is not unique to Bridges Community Services, whose goal is to develop, provide and coordinate housing, supportive services, education and employment programs for low income individuals and families in the Muncie and Delaware County area. Other organizations in Delaware County, like Bridges, with similar goals can find themselves with their hands full when it comes to helping the homeless find stable living conditions.

“We may not be able to fix all their issues,” Buffin said. “We may not be able to fix whether they have a job or not, or addictions, or whatever situation that they are dealing with. But getting people houses as a community, we definitely could do that.”

Homelessness can be a slippery slope. For some, a relatively stable life can be derailed by one incident that sends that stability flying out the window. In an academic study on homelessness and opportunities for prevention by John Barile called “A latent class analysis of self-identified reasons for experiencing homelessness: Opportunities for prevention,” Barile et al surveyed 577 individuals who had experienced homelessness at some point in their life. After taking a look at the results there is one cause that stood out as the main factor that puts people out of safe living conditions- job loss.

Of the 577 responses, 318 identified job loss as the main contributing factor that put them on the street. The sense of self doubt that comes with losing a job can cause an individual to lose track of their journey and turn to solutions that further drive someone away from a stable home. Which leads to the second most frequent reason for homelessness that was recorded, alcohol and drug use. 

Danny Smith, Director of Men’s Transitional Living at the Muncie Mission, works with homeless men in Muncie who are hoping to get back on their feet. Smith identified alcohol and drug addiction as one of the main contributing factors that keeps homeless individuals from moving forward.

“I deal with seeing people die,” Smith said. “I see people continuing to make the wrong choice time after time, but it's all worth it when that one person decides to change their life and they are done with their addiction.”

While alcohol and other drugs may have varying effects on the individual that use them, the fact remains that when someone turns to these substances, they begin to invest their time and money in something that does not promote improvement. Of the participants in Barile’s study, 187 people (32%) identified substance abuse as the reason for their homelessness. The next three most frequently answered reasons for being homeless were loss of money (29%), unable to pay rent (28%) and mental illness (21%).

In order to take someone off the streets and put them back into stable living arrangements, the individual must be far away from these situations that will put the person at risk of spiraling out of control. Organizations such as the Muncie Mission and Bridges put an emphasis on meeting the homeless where they are at in order to help them move ahead.

“When somebody comes in to Bridges for the first time, I always imagine what that feels like when you are at your lowest point,” Buffin said. “Sometimes they are terrified, and they come in and they are looking down. When we start working with that person and we make that first connection, it usually is very challenging for them.”

One specific initiative that the Bridges staff identified as being especially successful in serving the homeless population is the Tiny Home Village. On the grounds of Bridges there are six tiny homes intended to house homeless individuals who seek out help from the organization. In these homes, homeless individuals are provided a space to call their own while they take strides towards becoming more self reliant.

“If I had an unlimited supply of money, that would be the area where it would go,” Buffin said. Because some folks will fall through the cracks and they just need that time to get their feet under them, they need space, they need case management.”

Inhabiting one of the Tiny Homes allows for that individual to not only have access to stable living conditions, but also to have access to the other services provided by Bridges. Case management will allow those individuals to meet with a case manager that will highlight the steps they must take to find permanent housing of their own. 

“I think a definite high for me or where I feel most valuable a lot of times is just being an ear for people to listen,” said Sarah Beaver, Case Manager at Bridges Community Services. “I will listen to their stories and provide any type of insight or referrals to different services were we are able to meet their needs.”

According the United States Census Bureau, 12.3 percent of U.S. citizens live in poverty. While this is not necessarily the same as being homeless, this puts into perspective the amount of people who are either currently without stable living conditions or very close to finding themselves in that same situation. Taking a closer look to see how this number compares with those of Delaware County is eye opening. According to the census, 20.6 percent of Delaware County residents currently live in poverty. We only see this percentage increase as we take a look at Muncie. Muncie currently has 29.9 percent of its residents living in poverty.

“The issue of homelessness is one that bothers everybody so we want to fix it,” Smith said. “So how do we fix it? Well let's get an apartment and stick a person in it, what's the problem?”

Smith’s use of sarcasm is a reflection of the frustration that comes with providing services for homeless individuals who are unable to sustain them.

“If i get somebody an apartment and put them in it, that doesn't necessarily solve the problem if this person has a major addiction, or is severely mentally ill,” Smith said. “Both of which cases it is very difficult for someone to manage their own apartment.”

After realizing that simply giving a homeless person a space to live in does not solve the problem, organizations combating homeless have had to take innovative approaches towards providing these individuals help.

The Muncie Mission has taken an innovative approach in combating the issue in three initiatives that build on one another. First with Emergency Shelter, where homeless individuals in a pinch can find immediate help and shelter at any time of the day. The Mission will reach out to people in the emergency phase and present to them the recovery program offered by the Mission. 

“Men who come to stay at the Muncie Mission have a choice,” Smith said. “They can either stay for 30 days and basically they don't have to do anything, or they can join the long-term recovery program and part of that is they have to go to the new life center and participate there. They are volunteering their time as part of their stay.”

The Liberty Street Recovery Program is a Christ-centered, Twelve Step program designed for the man who is experiencing drug/alcohol or other addictions. As part of this program, participants find a sense of purpose working at the Attic Window, a thrift store ran by the Mission. While also building community with men in similar stages of their journey, participants will have access to individual and group counseling opportunities. Smith spoke of the many benefits that come with seeing individuals stay to serve at the Attic Window.

“Number one, it helps people in Muncie get clothing,” Smith said. “Number two, it helps build a camaraderie with some of the men that are staying here and help them feel like they are not alone and not forgotten.”

Upon completing the Liberty Street Recovery Program these men have the opportunity to join the transitional living program offered by the Mission. At this stage, they will learn to live on their own outside of the Mission structure and develop life skills to continue to grow. Smith spoke of the fulfillment that comes with seeing someone see the process through and come out on the other side a changed person.

“It's what makes all the bad parts of the job worth it,” Smith said. “You are going from being a drain on society to a benefit for society. All that bad stuff is now gone and instead they usually become an advocate for not doing that.”

With an issue so wide scale and diverse, there can be many approaches to combating homelessness. The Muncie community has taken into consideration the issue of homelessness and how having individuals living on the streets can be a burden for the community. Organizations and groups around Muncie have teamed up and taken initiative towards the issue in forming the 8twelve Coalition. The 8twelve Coalition is comprised of residents, nonprofits and businesses working to revitalize the 8twelve target area bordered by 8th Street, Memorial Street, Perkins Avenue, and Madison Street.

The coalition’s vision is to revitalize neighborhoods around Muncie and create inclusive housing options for all of Muncie’s residents. The revitalization plan developed from community members and groups coming together to recognize a common problem they share as members of Muncie and Delaware County. The coalition’s plan focuses on improving housing, beautifying the neighborhood, and supporting local businesses. The 12 partners contributing to the cause are; Ball State University Immersive Learning, Ball State University Office of Community Engagement, BY5, Campus Community Coalition, City of Muncie, Collective Coalition of Concerned Clergy, Muncie Action Plan, Muncie Meth Task Force, Muncie Redevelopment Commission, Sustainable Muncie Corporation, Shafer Leadership Academy, Vectren Foundation.

One more contributing member of the coalition, and a organization in Muncie that is on the front lines of fighting homelessness is the Muncie Mission. The purpose of the Mission is to provide compassionate Rescue services on an immediate and/or long-term basis to the poor and needy of Muncie and East Central Indiana. While grateful for the many contributing groups that are fighting homelessness in Muncie, Danny Smith recognizes how these plethora of resources can be both good and bad for the community.

“A possible pro and con is when a homeless person comes here, there are a lot of resources here in Muncie,” Smith said. “The con is that it can present a weight on muncie for dealing with a lot of homelessness. I start to wonder if some (homeless) people come to Muncie specifically for those services.” 

While there may be a percentage of homeless individuals seeking out services here in Muncie, there are many others who are unaware of the help they could be receiving. 

“We were largely an industrial city, so as those companies have moved out of the area it has left a lot of abandoned structures,” Buffin said. “So even though our homeless numbers may be more, they are not as visible because I believe they take up residency in locations that are not fit for human habitation. And because of that they are very hard to not just count, but they are hard to help.”

Bridges has found frustration at times in seeking out homeless individuals in Muncie. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual survey that serves as a barometer of the number of homeless people in a given area. This tally is what Bridges and other organizations combating homelessness use to rate their initiatives.

“The downfall of that is the harder you work and the more outreach you do, you are going to find people that are still out there and the count will go up,” Buffin said. “So the better outreach you do the more numbers we find unfortunately.”

In Muncie, there is help for those who seek it out. However, reaching homeless people is no easy task and many times these individuals do not know where to look. Whether it be the Muncie Mission, Bridges Community Services, or other members of the 8twelve Coalition the common goal is to get people off the streets and into a stable home. It may seem unattainable at times, but it remains an issue that must be combated one day at a time.