When talking or thinking about Decatur County, most residents probably wouldn’t list homelessness as one of the area’s most pressing problems.
While Greensburg and Decatur County certainly don’t have a homeless population comparable to larger metro areas, Diane Moore, executive director of Greensburg’s New Directions Domestic Violence Shelter, sees a fair share of homeless Decatur Countians every year.
“We see at least one homeless person two weeks of every month here at New Directions,” Moore said. “These are individuals — sometimes families — who aren’t victims of domestic violence, but who’ve been made homeless by the loss of a job or some other unforeseen event.”
Moore stressed that the majority of these people aren’t transients, but are Decatur County residents.
“We don’t turn away anyone who comes here seeking help,” she added, “but if they aren’t victims of domestic violence, we can’t house them here. Our grants don’t cover general homelessness.”
Instead, Moore explained, the shelter keeps a list of homeless shelters and contact numbers throughout the state. When a homeless Decatur Countian or family turns up at New Directions, Moore tries to help them find a place for which they will qualify.
“We let them use our phone,” the executive director said, “to call various shelters or to call friends or family. We help them find transportation, too. There have been cases, too, in which we’ve provided transportation.”
Moore also sees plenty of homeless domestic violence victims, too.
“Last year,” she explained, “we helped 151 primary domestic violence victims and around 167 secondary victims. Around one-third or 33 percent of those were homeless. These are victims who, in escaping their abusive situations, are left with no place to go. Often, these people leave so quickly that they escape with only the clothes on their backs.”
If the homeless individual or family is indeed a victim of domestic violence, New Directions can offer more options in assisting them.
“Before we house them here,” Moore said, “we try to help them find somewhere else first. Do they have a friend or relative with whom they’d feel safe staying? Is there anywhere they can think of where they’d feel safe?”
If the answer to that question is no, Moore can then open up her facility to provide housing.
“Last year,” she said, “we found shelter for all but seven of all the people who came to us for help, and we provided shelter for those seven individuals and their families.”
Jacque Denny, county director for Human Services of Decatur County, told the Daily News her agency doesn’t currently have a program that deals with homelessness.
“I don’t know how many people are homeless in Decatur County right now,” Denny said. “We do an annual survey around this time of year, and the next one will be Jan. 30. Last year’s survey found between 4 to 6 individuals or families who fit the state’s definition of homelessness.”
The Jan. 30 survey, Denny added, will be part of a statewide survey of homelessness call a “Point in Time” Count.
“Respondents will be filling out a survey,” Denny explained. “That’s all we ask they do. We’ll also provide each person with a ‘care kit’ and talk to them about services available here and provide them with a potential list of services elsewhere.”
Denny will spread word of the survey by sending notifications to help agencies around Decatur County to send homeless individuals to Human Services or The Bread of Life (which will also administer the surveys).
Following the Jan. 30 survey, Denny will have clearer numbers regarding the extent of the homeless problem she faces. Unfortunately, having those numbers will do nothing to enhance the services available to homeless Decatur Countians.
“We don’t have a homeless shelter in Decatur County,” Denny said. “Fortunately, churches in the area and the AGAPE Center are able to offer some limited amount of help. We see a lot of people put up at the Greensburg Quality Inn.”
Jim Stuart, trustee of Washington Township, said that a Decatur County Homeless Shelter would be advantageous, but he doesn’t see how the county could pay for it.
“The problem with a shelter,” he said, “is you’ve got to be able to staff and run it, and you need money to build it and to fund its operating expenses. I just don’t know where that money would come from.”
Stuart believes that an estimate of four to six homeless Decatur County individuals and families is low.
He added that a certain stigma is attached to homelessness in this area that might not be present in other areas.
“I think some of it’s pride,” he said. “People in this area don’t want others to know they need help.”
In other cases, he added, perhaps the individual or family isn’t homeless the entire year, which might mean they don’t fit the state definition of homeless.
“Whether you’re homeless two weeks or two months, half the year or the entire year,” he said, “it’s too much.”
He continued, “There are also people right here, right now in Decatur County living in sheds in people’s backyards with no heat or power. Is that homeless? And there are people living out of cars, too.”
Stuart added that Decatur County’s homeless problem has gotten dramatically worse since he took office. He estimated that the area’s homeless population has increased roughly 40 percent during his 18 years in office.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.