August 25, 2022

Community speaks out against measures that would impact those experiencing homelessness

Community members line up to testify at committee meeting. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

Community members line up to testify at committee meeting. (Jill Sheridan WFYI)

Local activists and community members spoke out about proposed ordinances that would hinder groups that distribute food and other aid to people experiencing homelessness.

The Indianapolis City-County Council is considering two proposals to address the needs of people unhoused in Indianapolis. 

The first measure passed a committee vote and sets aside $76,000 to purchase restrooms and cleaning stations.  The portable facilities are made from shipping containers and offer a semi-permanent solution to the lack of public restrooms for people experiencing homelessness.

At a meeting of the council’s public safety committee this week community members gave testimony about the public facility proposal. One would be placed at the Old City Hall where the city already has a safe distribution site. Some community members have scouted the site and found services currently lack there.

The other proposed location is the Babe Denny Park on the old southside.  Community members said that site is inaccessible and unusable during Colts games. Others, including Beverle Kane, just don’t think the park is the place.

“Now we have nothing against the homeless, we actually call them our outdoor friends, we just don't want them in Babe Denny Park,” Kane said.

The other proposal, Proposal 256, would require organizations that serve food and other aid to larger groups of people to register with the city. The city said spontaneous food giving causes litter and can lead to disorder.  A stabbing at a charitable giving site downtown earlier this year may have spurred the proposal.

Wildstyle Pashall has been outspoken about the issue.  He said the measure would have an immediate impact. 

“The grassroots organizations that 256 is going to regulate and fine into oblivion are minority lead Black and brown people and the people they are serving… the homeless population is mostly Black,” Pashall said.

Carlette Duffy with the Office of Public Health and Safety defended the measure and said registration would be free and easy and would allow better communication and coordination.

“So that if there is a need for them in terms of resources, we can assist them with obtaining those resources,” Duffy said. “If there is a need for us, in terms of we receive funding all of the time where we have to find partners, and we don't know everyone who's out here who could potentially be a partner, to work with us in the work that we do.”

Elder Coleman is a local homeless advocate. He took issue with the city saying there is a lack of coordination between service groups and said it’s become increasingly difficult to provide food.

“We were thrown off of Lugar Plaza. We were thrown off of American Legion Mall, told that we couldn't serve there,” Coleman said.

Advocates, nonprofits and mutual aid groups say the ability to provide rapid, spontaneous aid in public places is critical.  Aaron McBride with Faith in Indiana said the proposals are just a band-aid to continued disinvestment in homeless services. He said discussions should really focus on public health facts and best practices.

“I think a study could fully provide further opportunity to expand this instead of safe distribution sites. Let's look at safe shelter sites we know housing is the issue,” McBride said.

The council voted down a similar proposal in 2020 as the city was still under COVID-19 restrictions and after a summer of social protests. That proposal was introduced by Republican council members. This time around it’s Democrats. 

The committee postponed a vote on Proposal 256 and will continue discussions with local groups. Changes to the measure may include removing penalties and making the measure clearer.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

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