INDIANAPOLIS -- Every day in Indianapolis, homeless outreach organizations try to help connect people to services. Some want help, others do not.
“Hey Kelly…Kelly…," yelled Andrea De Mink.
"Did you see anyone,” asked IMPD Officer Phil Smiley.
De Mink and Smiley have come to a homeless camp at the underside of a downtown bridge to tell Kelly that they’ve found him housing.
“At one time we probably had 15 people back here," Smiley said. "Now there’s, I guess, a couple just moved in and then the gentleman she’s looking for."
De Mink and Smiley are under a bridge downtown just west of the zoo. The area is packed with all sorts of stuff -- clothing and shoes and coolers
“Oh, yeah," Smiley said. "They just hoard whatever they think they’ll need and it just stays here."
De Mink is founder of The Pourhouse, an organization that helps connect people with housing. Twice a week, her group also provides meals downtown, and that’s where she met Kelly a couple of years ago. She says it’s taken some time to convince him to seek more permanent shelter.
“He actually doesn’t mind living outside," De Mink said. "But the last winter was really rough – the last two winters.”
She marvels at their ability to live in harsh conditions, like under this bridge.
"There were a couple of guys that lived in the bridge in front of us on either side of it. There are pipes that run through there that in the winter carry – they’re like steam pipes – and so if you tarp them – it can really make it warm," De Mink said. "And so, there’s a guy on each side and we were able to successfully house both of them. And so it’s opened up for whoever else finds them this winter.”
It’s hard to know just how many people are homeless at a given time. The annual “Point In Time” count this past January found more than 5,800, but De Mink says that doesn’t include anyone seeking refuge in abandoned homes and buildings.
At the next stop, the team keeps its distance at first when they hear dogs barking.
“Anybody home? Outreach,” Smiley yelled.
Then they walk up to a pristine, wooded campground. A sign hanging near the first tent reads: "Your habits are a reflection of you. Clean up and pick up after yourself!"
Smiley says the vibe here has changed.
“When I first started doing this, this was a bad heroin area. They would come back here and just – you’d come back and they’d be passed out everywhere," Smiley said. "Seems like it shifts, you know, goes in cycles. Now we’ve got a good group back here that care about where they live.”
At the next stop along White River, a huge blue tarp hangs from the trees with several tents underneath. Carpet remnants cover the ground, a hammock hangs at one end and a cat greets the team.
Outreach member and Midtown Crisis Counselor Linda Linn says the animals are companions and help keep the homeless safe.
“Dogs for protection and cats for rats and mice and things," Linn said. "So, the last three years we get a live trap and get them spayed and neutered. We get donations of cat food – dog food.”
Rats have been a problem for a camp not far away, so Smiley asks Kenny about them here.
“I’m gonna get a rat guy for up the way, have you had any problems here," asked Smiley.
“What?” Kenny responded.
“Rats,” said the team in unison.
Kenny gasped, “If it wasn’t for this cat right here… She’s a great hunter. She really is.”
After having their camp flood during the heavy rains this summer, and surviving the last few harsh winters in the tents, Kenny and his girlfriend are ready to find housing; and De Mink is working on it – but they want to live as a couple – and very few organizations offer housing to couples without kids.
“Okay, I’ll see you soon and we’ll be in touch okay,” De Mink said to Kenny and his girlfriend.
“Okay Andrea," Kenny said. "It’s really nice seeing you Andrea.”
“It’s nice to see you too my friend,” De Mink answered.
With that, it’s up the embankment and off to the next stop along the way.