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Bill Aims To Remove Residency Requirement For Assisting Homeless

The Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana Statehouse (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

A bill making its way through the legislature would make it easier for homeless people – who can’t provide a legal address – to still get services. 

Township trustees often require proof of residence before homeless people can get assistance. 

“A lot of the trustees don’t get involved with homelessness because with the homeless, we’re only charged with helping Columbus township residents,” says Ben Jackson, a township trustee for southern Indiana’s Bartholomew county. 

But the paradox is people suffering from homelessness don’t have a permanent residence. 

“I take a more general view of residency. We try to help every homeless person that comes in here, the ones that are just passing through the area,” Jackson says.  

Lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 67 to clarify that township trustees should assist any homeless people in their jurisdiction – whether they can prove residency or not. 

“Senate Bill 67 is trying to solve an issue of homelessness and to try to support those that are in need,” says State Sen. Jon Ford, one of the bill’s authors. 

“Trustees are kind of at the ground roots of all this. And they really know their constituents, know folks in their community. And you know, are kind of a last ditch safeguard for folks,” he says.

“And there’s been some question about can they use their funds to help people that don’t live in their district. And I think this bill is really trying to clarify that for them.”

The language of the bill is vague on what kinds of assistance trustees would be required to provide. It lets local officials decide what they can afford to do. 

Some trustees like Jackson could decide to provide overnight shelter at their partner facilities. For others, it could be as simple as posting a sign suggesting charities to consult. 

“Each township is unique and different,” Ford says. “They can tailor it to what fits them the best.” 

The bill incorporates changes proposed by State Sen. Dennis Kruse. He’s a former trustee and says that from his experience, homelessness isn’t an issue in most townships.  

“I would say most townships don’t have a homeless person," Kruse says. "So, I’m thinking this should not apply to small townships. So, we got with the author and he agreed, and the committee agreed to have it (apply to) a population of 10,000 or more.”  

Kruse also feared that any requirement placed on townships would encourage homeless people to travel to areas with the most social services and drain their resources. 

“You know, when you’re homeless, your home is where you stand,” says Forrest Gilmore, executive director of the Shalom Community Center in Bloomington.

He says Kruse’s prediction that people might migrate toward services is possible. But he also thinks that’s a natural reaction to difficult circumstances.

“It’s possible that it could create some migration and some movement,” Gilmore says. “But I think the biggest thing to remember is when homeless people move … They’re not moving toward something. They’re fleeing away from something.

He adds: “Nobody wants to leave their home. And so when they do leave their communities, it’s because something in that community isn’t working for them.

The bill has been referred to the House committee on government and regulatory reform. Last week, a state representative signed on as a cosponsor.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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