There are Signs that the Number of Homeless Individuals in Evansville is Decreasing
Point-in-time counts reveal improving numbers, but the demands for services from local non-profits could be growing
It’s common knowledge that Evansville has a homelessness challenge.
In fact, Evansville has the most of any city in Indiana based on population — said Zac Heronemus, executive director of Aurora Evansville, which works to prevent, and transition people out of homelessness.
“We do see some transient folks experiencing homelessness pop up in our community, but the vast majority of folks are people that did live here, and were either evicted or lost their housing through a variety of reasons.”
He believes location is also a contributing factor. Evansville is centered among several large metropolitan areas like Indianapolis, St. Louis and Nashville.
Heronemus said that the number of homeless people in Evansville is decreasing.
They know this because Aurora does regular point-in-time counts of homeless individuals – both those who are “chronically” homeless, meaning they’ve been living either on the streets, in a hotel room supplied by the government or in a shelter, and those who’ve recently lost their homes.
In 2020 they were able to identify 488 individuals, either in their shelters, or on the street.
The most recent count was summer of 2022, where the number dropped from 350 to 323.
“So we're starting to see our population reduce, at least according to our point time counts that we're doing,” Heronemus said.
The chronically homeless are also down from about 140 in 2016 or so to about 35 or 40 now.
They think the reduction is due in part to “prevention” dollars they use, which can keep people in their homes said Kim Armstrong, resource development officer and a board member of United Caring Services which runs a local shelter.
“So that that's what gives us hope,” Armstrong said. “Because of the prevention dollars that we've received in the last couple of years, those numbers have improved quite a bit by preventing people from being evicted.”
She said this is relevent if the eviction is due to non-payment, versus other reasons.
Again, this is based on point-in time counts. There is an annual federal count, but Aurora plans to do these three times per year, which is good news for Kyle Gorman, director of advancement at the Evansville Rescue Mission.
“It's very difficult whenever I think the city does it once a year, it's very difficult because we have so much of a transient population to kind of nail down. So we've never focused on that type of data.”
Gorman said they basically just focus on serving people who need it – homeless or not. To him, they’ve seen an increase in people needing their services.
“Our food service has definitely increased,” Gorman said. “So we open our doors breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year for people to come and get food who either are homeless on the streets or just can't afford proper meals for their kids or for themselves … we see an increased number of people coming in and the frequency they're coming to us.”
He said another trend is the increase in those seeking services who have mental health challenges.
“...severe depression, anxiety, things like that, that they may not properly know how to handle, or they haven't had the right medications or their medication info is wrong.”
They know this from their intake questionnaires.
“The largest for us, as an organization is, ability to work with all the other organizations in Evansville, making sure that the continuum of care is being followed,” Gorman said.
He’s referring to “wraparound” services, where a client receives services they need without having to go to all these organizations individually. Gorman said this way, if the rescue mission isn’t what they need, they can go somewhere else.
And back to the point-in-time counts – Gorman is looking forward to seeing those specific numbers. “Now that it's going to be more frequently, those are numbers that we can really stand behind,” he said.
How to keep this trend of reducing those experiencing homelessness is the “million dollar question,” Heronemus said, adding that it’s multi-faceted.
Prevention programs and wraparound services need to remain funded. But part of it has to do with capacity to assist.
“We've got a significant (homeless) population, and not nearly enough caseworkers, social workers that are placed within every organization that makes up the homeless services network,” he said.
And speaking of capacity, the Evansville rescue mission is building out a new facility which will be able to house women and children who are experiencing homelessness. Gorman said they’d base the program on their men’s home.
Heronemus also mentioned the Promise Home by Echo Housing which once opened, could effectively reduce the number of chronically homeless to zero – technically meaning 10 or fewer people.