Documenting Shameful Behavior

A few months ago, I got a call from a young man who wanted to interview me about Indianapolis’ homeless problem. Why me? He had interviewed service providers, police officers and others involved with Indianapolis’ homeless on a day-to-day basis, but was looking for someone who could address the policy choices involved. I said, sure, come on over.

In due course, three young men came over with camera and other gear, and we talked about the city’s recent forced removal of a “tent city,” the fact that there is nowhere for homeless people to go for anything other than short-term (10 day) shelter, and–especially–the fact that Indianapolis (unlike other cities our size) budgets no public money to address homelessness.

They wanted to know why the city can find dollars to support sports teams, to subsidize development projects and even to build a cricket field, but somehow cannot find resources to help  people dealing with the loss of their jobs and homes–not to mention those with mental health problems. They wanted to know why these vulnerable people were ignored until someone complained of a “camp” at which time they were forcibly removed, their few meager possessions trashed, and they were ordered to go…somewhere else.

And they wanted to know why Mayor Ballard refused to talk to them.

I didn’t have very satisfactory answers to those questions.

The truth of the matter–as we all know–is that the political system responds to people who have “voice,” people who can  volunteer or contribute to campaigns, people who “know people,” who can have dinner or drinks with elected officials, and who can otherwise make their policy preferences known.

The trio left, and I didn’t hear anything more until a couple of days ago. They’d finished the documentary, Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness and invited me to see it. Despite their youth, the product was impressive. Good production values, a thorough and even-handed treatment of the issues involved, and a genuinely gripping story.

Don’t take my word for it, though–watch the trailer, and then buy tickets to the first showing, at 2:30, at the IUPUI Campus Center on Saturday, May 31st. I plan to attend, even though I’ve seen it once.

Perhaps this will spark a conversation that Indianapolis needs to have.


  1. As former head of Housing for Community Action of Greater Indianapolis, I worked w/ ICHHI. Those who work w/ homelessness often forget to ‘bring others along’ in understanding the immediacy of the problem. In the more prosperous 90’s a MAJORITY of Center Township, in Indianapolis were within WEEKS without pay of homelessness .

  2. A number of years ago, I cannot remember the local group who did a study of the homeless by spending a lengthy time with them to ask questions, learn their living habits/arrangements, etc. Their results showed that nearly half of them preferred being homeless, having no responsibilities, no bills to pay and to live day-to-day – and night-to-night – with no sense of direction. It appears that, due to the results of that study, all homeless here have been painted with the same brush. It was during that time period that the excellent movie, “Ironweed”, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson was released. It did NOT receive favorable reviews and I have always believed it is because this country does not want to accept or look into the faces of the homeless. I personally knew two of the “regulars” on the downtown streets; they fit the category of wanting no responsibilities, they also had substance abuse problems. I also knew a City/County worker who dropped out of sight for a few months then reappeared on the streets downtown begging money. I talked to him briefly; he readily admitted he was bipolar and preferred not taking his medication. He was a sad loss to City/County government as well as his family and friends. This is a problem that has no pat answers; but they still deserve our attention and our help. Isn’t it in the Bible, “The poor will always be with us.” That does not mean it is acceptable or should be ignored. I am frequently aware of how easily I could have become one of them; with the current “leadership” at state and federal levels this possibilities still hovers over my head.

  3. Anyone familiar with scripture will tell you that it always come down squarely on the side of the poor, whose cause is a prominent theme. The “poor will always be with you” is part of a totally different context and should, in no way be considered as support for ignoring them.

    Concerning the film, the message is so important, but it stands in the cacophony of voices and printed words so that only the loudest (or craziest) voices become heard. I wish a documentary were made of some of the despicable events and sentences during the past week so people would pay attention to them, because it appears the only way for people to change shameful behavior is to shame them into it.

  4. Maybe we should follow the NRA and provide all the homeless with GUNS. Maybe high powered fast firing ones. THEN the Repubs would notice them.

  5. Give out “homeless packages”: a change of clothes, food coupons, blankets and an Uzi. If the NRA is right about things, that will eliminate the crime problem, too. Just think about the good press that will come Indianapolis’ way.

  6. “And they wanted to know why Mayor Ballard refused to talk to them.” – Probably because they did not provide a Campaign Donation or are part of the 1%. Welfare is just fine and dandy for our Republicrat Party here in Marion County, as long as it is Corporate Welfare for the Pacers or Colts or any other politically connected insider.

    Many years ago I worked downtown and observed some people going through the trash and eating sandwiches, etc., that people had thrown away. I refuse to believe this is the way they want to be. These people are mentally ill or impaired and as such may end up as alcoholics or drug addicts. They are lost in modern society. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done medically for them. There is an obvious difference, those with wealth can pay for Rehab and maybe even avoid jail. Those who cannot afford Rehab are left on their own and may end up in the prison system rather than a Country Club Rehab Clinic.

  7. The mayor in Indy would rather arrest the homeless than help them. This has been documented several times in The Star. Problem grows from there.

  8. Whoa, wait a minute. First of all, @JoAnn Green, I normally love most your posts, but I should have intensive knowledge of nearly every homeless and poverty study that corresponds to Indiana because it is part of my job, and I do not know of the study of which you reference. That summary is twisted, twisted like some people cherry pick the Bible for example, and as someone who has personally spoken with at least hundreds of homelessness people and homeless agencies, plus studied an extensive amount of research, I doubt the interpretation of the study you reference. Although given modern politics, sadly it would not surprise me if somebody said it.

    Very few people choose homelessness if given better options, and truly being homelessness is very stressful in the long term, the sense of freedom is very fleeting. If having to choose between a rock and hard place as an analogy, someone may choose a hard place, but that does not mean that person would choose a hard place, if given better options. It all depends on what options overall are made to a person and how the question is asked. What would you choose, a rock or a hard place? I could see how an inexperienced person could ask too narrow of questions, but I am guessing that instead a study you saw was filtered and twisted to fit a bias.

    On behalf of the City of Evansville government, I do work with the local homeless agencies and advocate for the homeless population. I am also a regular reader and fan of this blog. Anyone who wants to talk to me directly about homelessness, please feel free to contact me at the City of Evansville.

    I moved back to my hometown of Evansville a few years ago, but I did live in Indianapolis for over a decade. I started out life as scientist at IUPUI. I then decided to get a MPA, I loved Sheila Kennedy’s classes so much, that I took two classes from her, during that time frame. Politically, I have always been a social liberal and fiscal conservative. I used to be a moderate that leaned toward the Republican party, but as the Republican party has moved scarily away from me, I guess I am a default Democrat now. While working on my MPA as a full time graduate student, I interned with ICHHI as part of what used to be called the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. The reason I was chosen for the internship, was they wanted someone who was comfortable with the homeless population, and mostly because of my Grandmother being an advocate for the homeless and recruiting the entire family from time to time to help out with a shelter, I had grown up volunteered with the homeless system, and I knew homeless people as actual real people. During my internship, I did lots of surveys and interviews of homeless people and homeless agencies across the entire State of Indiana including Indianapolis. Then I worked for IDEM as an Indiana Administrative Code Rulewriter. Then I decided to move to back Evansville, and cutting out some unrelated details of my life, I obtained my current job in large part because of my internship with the homeless.

    I apologize for laying out my resume, but I find it unfortunately necessary to establish my credibility, that I do therefore know something about homeless issues. I am also still a scientist at heart, so while I am aware that being human, I have my own biases, but there are extensive and well done studies regarding the homeless, and I try to do everything that I can based on the best available credible information regarding the homeless.

    The biggest shift in helping the homeless is the philosophy of housing first and a system wide approach. Research has shown that housing people as soon as possible works much better than the band aid approach of patching together temporary charity. The old approach is sometimes called housing ready, where people have to prove that they are ready for housing, and trying to convince people that research shows something significantly different that what is their ingrained beliefs, well this blog has had several posts about that problem.

    I will reach out to the folks in the link.

  9. Gayl; the study I referred to was done long ago, the face of the homeless has changed through the years but the attitude toward them by officials and the general public has not. Due to the current economy we see families and formerly employed at all economic levels becoming homeless. When the study I mentioned was done, the homeless were frequently substance abusers and trancients. It is a different world today; and not only for the homeless, whatever brought them to that condition.

  10. @JoAnn Green Thank you very much for your reply. Yes, unfortunately, I encounter people daily that do think like that, and years of really well done research that dispute those myths doesn’t persuade them any differently, the myths are ingrained very deeply in their thoughts. I had no doubt that you had read such a so-called study, but I did not want the myths hanging out there on the internet without a proper correction. I also don’t want people who hold those myths as truth to think that there is any credible study that backs what they think is true, when years of extensive, proper scientific research disputes those myths, and reality is very different.

    I kind of joke that a big part of my job description is trying to be a myth buster to the middle class. It is usually middle class people that won’t believe me. Talking with homeless people is actually much easier. I kind of hate having to bring out my resume, but sadly I have found that it is needed for many people to take me seriously.

    As for Indianapolis, CHIP is the main contact point for homeless issues, website found at The City of Indianapolis farms out quite a bit to CHIP, so they are probably relying on CHIP as being the local homeless issues contact. While reading the blog entry, I realized that I had not seen my counterpart at the City of Indianapolis in a while, and looking at the staff directory online, I am not seeing my counterpart, a specific homeless specialist in the community development section. Either that position needs to be filled or my counterpart job duties are spread over several employees in conjunction with CHIP. My guess is that they are relying heavily on CHIP, and while CHIP is great, I personally think they need someone in house to do what I do too. While ICHHI no longer exists, a lot of what they did was picked up by IACED.

    The shift in philosophy is to fight homelessness at the system level, it is moving away from the concept of a bunch of charities doing bits and pieces. It takes system level reform with long term results. There are similar concepts to housing first like aging in place. People like myself that work at the system level are invisible to the average citizen, but we do exist.

  11. Gayl, thanks so much for your comments. I understand your need to bring out your resume as what you shared would be questioned and I like that you are honest about it.
    I really think that closing the mental hospitals in this country during Reagan’s term was the beginning of this long slippery slope of homelessness in this country. There will always be a number in our population (is it about 2%) that cannot function as ‘normal’ adults and will need public assistance because of the lack of family support etc. Socialism in western Europe has identified these people and created programs to help them.
    It’s a sad admission of mine to say that our homeless situation here in the States is worse than any civilized nation that I’ve visited or lived in.
    We will be judged by how we help the least among us.

  12. Documenting Shameful Behavior – Add to this list “The Oklahoma Department of Correction” and others who over the years have bungled executions. This subject has a colorful history over the last 100 years. Master Sargent “John C. Woods” who between 1944 and 1946 bungled 11 hangings of convicted US service personnel. He was diagnosed with “Constitutional Psychopathic Inferiority without Psychosis”, what a candidate for a executioner.

    We are surrounded by many examples of incompetence at various government levels. It probably boils down to the lack of required educational skills required to fill various positions within our bureaucracy.

    I don’t recall “Jack Kevorkian” ever bungling a job.

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