September 16, 2022

New transitional home in Indianapolis for unsheltered men is ‘one-way ticket to a better life’

The Indianapolis St. Vincent de Paul Society Council purchased the St. Elizabeth/Coleman Center in Indianapolis to repurpose it as a transitional home for unsheltered men. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

The Indianapolis St. Vincent de Paul Society Council purchased the St. Elizabeth/Coleman Center in Indianapolis to repurpose it as a transitional home for unsheltered men. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Paul Ainslie became president of the Indianapolis St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP) Council in December 2020, he talked with outgoing president John Ryan about “the next big thing.”

“He got both [Mission 27 resale] stores launched, got the Changing Lives Forever program expanded and got nutritional food in the food pantry,” Ainslie said of Ryan. “So, we discussed what the next big thing should be.

“We decided we really needed to focus on support for people suffering homelessness. We were in handout mode and wanted to do a hand-up program.”

That goal is becoming a reality.

On Aug. 22, SVdP Indianapolis released a statement announcing its purchase of the St. Elizabeth/Coleman Center in Indianapolis for conversion into the Love Your Neighbor Center, a transitional housing facility with space for 13 unsheltered men.

The men, identified from among those served by the organization, will live there for 6-9 months. During that time, they will participate in the SVdP Changing Lives Forever (CLF) program, learn job and life skills and utilize resources, with the end goal of obtaining permanent housing.

The hope is to finish necessary renovations to the facility in time for a late 2022 or early 2023 opening.

“We’ve been trying to help unsheltered people for years and years,” said Ainslie. “This [initiative] really steps up our game to provide 24/7 help and a one-way ticket off the street and to a better life.”

‘Learn their story to know how to help them’

The first step is identifying men “who would connect well” with the transitional housing ministry, said Ainslie.

“We’re starting with men because they far outnumber homeless women in Indianapolis,” he said.

Of the nearly 2,000 homeless in the city, “We see about 250-500 people a week, many recurring,” said Ainslie. “Linda [Clodfelter] said she wouldn’t have any problem finding 13 [men] who would connect well with this program.”

Clodfelter volunteers as the organization’s director of homeless services, which provide food, clothing, bicycles and social services to those living on the streets.

She first came to SVdP Indianapolis as a homeless person herself, after selling her home and car to help pay for her daughter’s medicine.

“I was on the streets for about a year,” said Clodfelter. “The homeless taught me how to be homeless. Now I teach the homeless how to not be homeless. This is a passion for me.”

She spoke of the need to “walk with the homeless one-on-one and learn their story to know how to help them.”

Clodfelter sees the transitional housing program’s mission applying that approach by focusing on just 13 men at a time.

“This [initiative] was my vision,” she said. “I saw the idea progressing, growing, finding a place. And now it’s here, praise God!”

‘Concept of one-on-one relationships’

The initiative is about far more than providing housing and food for its residents, said SVdP Indianapolis executive director Peter Zubler.

The center and program are “a closure of a loop of our services for the unsheltered,” he said. “It’s a way to take folks we know and intermingle our whole concept of systemic change and developing one-on-one relationships with people, so they feel empowered to take the next step to be permanently housed.”

Men living at the Love Your Neighbor Center will participate in SVdP’s Changing Lives Forever program, which teaches the impoverished how to break the cycle of poverty.

Through CLF’s 18, two- to three-hour modules, participants learn the basics of handling finances, managing time, researching community resources and other life-changing skills and strategies.

The residents will also benefit from SVdP’s partnership with the state’s IMPACT (Indiana Manpower Placement and Comprehensive Training) program and with the John Boner Community Center for jobs skills training.

The partnerships are “something new and a way to leverage existing resources in the community to develop skills and confidence in our participants,” said Ainslie.

But the transitional housing ministry is “not just about trying to fit people into a social work box where they have to meet certain criteria,” he continued. “They’re individuals worthy of dignity and respect.”

The Love Your Neighbor Center honors those rights. In addition to a bed, desk, closet and dresser, each of the 13 residential rooms has a window for natural light, WiFi and a private bathroom with a shower, as well as a lock on the door “so people can have their individual privacy,” said Ainslie.

To develop a realistic, workable program, Ainslie, Zubler and other council leaders visited similar SVdP facilities in Dayton and Louisville.

“They’re two similar but slightly different models, and it helped shape what we would like to accomplish,” said Zubler.

With an annual budget between $500,000 and $600,000, the Love Your Neighbor Center will have five full-time staff members, including a program director, case workers, kitchen staff and more.

But the facility and services will operate primarily through volunteers, said Zubler.

“We rely on the help of thousands to do all St. Vincent de Paul does in our community,” he said. “That will be no different with this facility.”

‘Similar mission in serving the poor and vulnerable’

The property, located at 2500 Churchman Ave. on the south side of Indianapolis near Beech Grove, has a long history of serving those in need. The Daughters of Isabella purchased it in 1921 and built the St. Elizabeth Home for unwed, unsheltered pregnant women, adding adoption services in 1929.

In 2004, the organization merged with Coleman Adoption Services to become St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services.

It closed the maternity home in 2007 due to rising costs but continued to use the home’s office space to provide adoption services, international adoption home studies and post-placement supervision.

St. Elizabeth/Coleman became an agency of Catholic Charities Indianapolis in 2008, maintaining its services and location while the residential facility served through 2017 as housing for archdiocesan interns.

“With the residential housing facility empty for five years, it was more and more challenging to financially support,” said David Bethuram, archdiocesan Catholic Charities Secretariat executive director. “So, the decision was made to sell the property to another non-profit with a similar mission in serving the poor and vulnerable.”

The transitional housing program for unsheltered men fulfilled that desire, and the property fulfilled the program’s needs. SVdP Indianapolis purchased the property from the archdiocese in May.

St. Elizabeth/Coleman will continue to operate on the property while searching for a new location, said Bethuram.

“Our services will not change,” he noted.

“St. Elizabeth/Coleman will continue to provide lifelong support and services to birth mothers, children and families.”

St. Vincent de Paul will continue the agency’s service of distributing clothes and baby items locally to pregnant and parenting mothers.

Distributing clothes and other items is “something St. Vincent de Paul already does, something we know how to do,” said Zubler. “So, we will continue that [service] and probably expand it.”

‘They’re not walking out alone’

There are other SVdP Indianapolis ministries Zubler sees adding to the list of services provided through the Love Your Neighbor Center, including a self-serve food pantry similar to the one the organization runs on the east side of Indianapolis.

“There is space [at the transitional home] that would allow a food pantry with room for storage and industrial-size refrigerators and freezers,” he said. “There’s a real food gap need within that community—we’ve been told that by multiple sources.”

Zubler also envisions the possibility of running a small resale shop at the facility, similar to the organization’s Mission 27 stores.

In addition to helping the local community, “Both [a resale shop] and a food pantry can function as vocational incubators for [the transitional home’s residents], because they give folks an opportunity to understand operations and responsibilities associated with employment and volunteer services,” he said.

Other ideas Zubler hopes to implement at the center include hosting community dinners, offering the facility’s conference space for use and inviting neighbors to participate in the CLF program.

“We want our doors to be open to the community around us,” he said. “We’ve already met with several neighborhood associations and religious organizations within the surrounding community, including Holy Name [of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove] and other denominations. We feel a cooperation with neighborhood associations, community centers, religious organizations and other non-profits will allow us to work together to identify need gaps.”

Zubler dreams big when considering the facility’s 7.4 acres. A campus with multiple family housing units and comprehensive services “could help us meet the needs of unsheltered families, including immigrants and refugees,” he said.

But the current focus is on getting the transitional housing program for unsheltered men established.

“It really fits the mission and values of St. Vincent de Paul,” said Zubler. “It’s a holistic approach that provides person-to-person service to those in need and helps them recover their own dignity by teaching them to be self-sufficient.

“We don’t want to be housing people so much as homing people. And we will continue to be there to help them and walk with them, so when they walk out the door, they know they’re not walking out alone.”
 

(For more information on the Love Your Neighbor Center and services or to inquire about job opportunities there, go to www.svdpindy.org/about/love-your-neighbor-center.)

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