by , | Aug 28, 2023 | Affordable Housing, Community Engagement, Fort Wayne Media Collaborative, Uncategorized | 0 comments


INDIANAPOLIS – Across the board, activists, social workers, academics, and others grappling with the national housing crisis agree that helping people experiencing homelessness find permanent housing is enormously challenging.

But beginning in the early 1990s, communities across the country embraced a philosophy that came to be known as “Housing First,” and began providing permanent “supportive” housing with few or no barriers to entrance, while helping clients solve the complex problems that contributed to their homeless status in the first place.

In 1993, Indianapolis banker Frank Hagaman recognized that the city was filled with abandoned buildings, while thousands of residents desperately needed safe, affordable housing. 

Drawing on his experience, Hagaman founded Partners in Housing, one of the first Housing First programs in the Indianapolis area.

Incorporated as a non-profit agency, PIH began buying abandoned properties all over the city and developing them into housing units. The units were in turn provided to the city’s homeless population with virtually no barriers to acceptance. 

Over 30 years, Partners in Housing has redeveloped 10 buildings in Indianapolis and one in Kokomo, and currently serves more than 600 individuals and families. The Partners in Housing motto is: “The solution to homelessness is housing.”

While communities across Indiana – including Fort Wayne – are adopting or exploring Housing First methods to end chronic homelessness, Partners in Housing helps homeless individuals transition from living on the street to living in rental properties, and offers supporting services to help keep their residents housed. 

“When we have folks coming in off the street, they have significant barriers,” said Kelsey Carroll, director of support services. “Most of the time, there is mental illness… substance abuse, medical conditions, [and] lots of traumas.” 

The agency places eligible residents into housing units it owns. While many shelters erect eligibility barriers to admission, admission to a Partners in Housing program has virtually no  barriers. 

Residents sign leases when they move into their housing units, and pay rents that are a tiny fraction of their income. 

Many individuals who are unsheltered may have untreated substance use disorders, serious mental illness, or chronic medical conditions, or a combination. They may also have poor or no credit histories, previous evictions, or criminal histories that prevent them from obtaining housing.

Housing First shelters typically eliminate sobriety and income requirements for admission as well as other policies that make it difficult to enter shelter, stay in shelter, or access housing and income opportunities. Green said the only barrier to admission or cause for eviction from a Partners in Housing property is violence directed at staff or other residents. 

Carroll said Partners in Housing remains a low-barrier shelter by helping residents access mental health and substance abuse services, connect with a primary care doctor, enroll in benefit programs they may be entitled to, and any other programs or services that can help them stay housed and become as self-sufficient as possible.

Partners in Housing Executive Director Jennifer Green said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that people who are homeless are less likely to end up homeless again if they are housed first.

“Once you get them housed and stabilized, it’s a lot easier to assess what their needs are, to find what they need and to find out what their barriers are. It’s hard to do that when they are still on the street because their barriers could change every day.”

Green said PIH follows the guidelines required by HUD to assess the effectiveness of their services, including whether residents fall back into homelessness, whether they’re receiving benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid, and other measurable factors. 

“Sometimes, [the success] is intangible. Sometimes our success rate is just that we even got someone to come down and engage with services,” she added. “So there are metrics we have to use, but our staff also looks at simple things, such as engaging in services or coming out of their apartment. We look at a lot of different things.” 

Jeannette Shaw, senior property manager for all Partners in Housing properties, said the properties have pantries and hire resource coordinators to aid residents in their transition out of chronic homelessness.

Shaw said  ‘Colonial Park,’ one of Partners in Housing’s facilities, is a more family- and pet-friendly option for residents. There are after-school classes for children, tutoring, and holiday celebrations for kids.

Shaw said everyone from the maintenance team to property managers to resource coordinators must  work together along with the residents to make a success story, and witnessing success is her favorite part of the job.

“Recently we had a resident, he’s been here for years, before I was even here.” Shaw said. “He came in and had some challenges and we just all worked together. He just bought a five-bedroom home for his grandbabies, so that was amazing.”

Fort Wayne Seeks Inspiration

In Fort Wayne, the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services is grappling with its own housing crisis. The city is currently ranked 13th  in the country in evictions by the Eviction Lab, a project of Princeton University, and city officials are looking to the success of organizations like Partners in Housing for inspiration.

In March, a committee of community leaders presented “Everyone Home: Fort Wayne’s Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” which contains a series of goals and strategies for ending homelessness, and introducing low-barrier shelters and Housing First opportunities within the city.

There are not enough permanent housing options and related supportive services currently available to meet the need in Fort Wayne, the report said. Access to affordable housing is vital to enable individuals who have become homeless to regain housing. It also provides an essential base for ongoing stability, which in turn prevents future homelessness.

Stakeholders in the homeless system of care in Fort Wayne believe that one of the biggest challenges in the current system is the absence of a low-barrier, housing- focused shelter to serve all populations. Many of the shelters in Fort Wayne are focused on serving specific populations, such as single men, families, or women fleeing domestic violence, but all except one have pre-conditions for admission.

Kelly Lundberg, the director of Housing and Neighborhood Services in Fort Wayne, says a Housing First approach could be beneficial for the homeless population in the city.

“We’re missing that type of facility here,” Lundberg said. “There are chronically homeless individuals that can’t find a fit in any of the current emergency shelters that exist in our community,” Lundberg said. ”And we’re trying to fill that gap.”

Lundberg said the traditional model of reducing homelessness via emergency shelters and temporary shelter programs are the primary method of attempting to combat homelessness in Fort Wayne. These programs have barriers to entry that prevent some people from being able to access shelter, unlike shelters using Housing First methods.

“We think that getting those folks into a shelter first with as few conditions as possible is crucial to helping them with the underlying issues that may exist that led them to this state of homelessness in the first place,” Lundberg said.

Jim Atz, community development administrator for the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services in Fort Wayne, said helping folks move along the self-sufficiency spectrum is the main mission of the OHNS.

“Self-sufficiency looks different for everyone,” Atz said, but what you see when you think about the homeless in Fort Wayne is that you’re seeing the people that the [traditional] system isn’t working for.”

“It’s called Housing First and not housing only,” he said, “so we’re putting people in a house and then working with them, so we’re not just putting them there and leaving them. They’re getting those wraparound services, and those are more effective when people are not figuring out where they’re going to sleep, what emergency shelter they’re going to be at, or what bridges they’ll be under.”


  • Julie Creek

     A Bloomington native, Julie Creek was a grant-writer/administrator, print journalist, editor, and freelance writer in Bloomington, Boston (MA), and Fort Wayne for 28 years, and later moved into higher education administration. She returned to journalism in early 2022 to work for the Collaborative. She is also a professional grant-writer and consultant.

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  • Sydney Hamblin

    Sydney Hamblin is a Kendallville native who attended college at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She graduated in May of 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in communication with a journalism concentration. Sydney is utilizing her degree by pursuing a fulfilling career as a communications and marketing coordinator at a nonprofit organization in Fort Wayne, where she is learning how to adapt her journalistic writing skill set to become a grant writer.

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