June 7, 2020

Downtown Without A Home: Experiences During The Protests And Pandemic

Andrea DeMink with the Pour House hands out dinner. - Jill Sheridan/WFYI

Andrea DeMink with the Pour House hands out dinner.

Jill Sheridan/WFYI

For those living on the streets of downtown Indianapolis, it’s been a tough few months with increased health risks, job opportunities lost, obstacles to services, and now protests and riots. 

On a recent weekday night, things are mostly quiet. 

About a dozen National Guardsmen stand in front of the large, limestone War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.

Mark Evans sits with a couple of friends across the street and gives his reaction to seeing the soldiers there. 

"Well, to be honest with you," says Evan, "it's probably a good thing because our city shut down and they’re tearing our city up."

But he also supports the protestors.

"They're sick of the police shooting people," says Evans, "Life is messed up."

In May, 21-year-old Dreasjon Reed was shot and killed while running away from the police, the incident streamed live on Facebook.

Protestors demand a transparent investigation, and they add their voices to the national call for new policing practices and consequences when police kill unarmed people or people in their homes.

People are again on the streets this day, but demonstrations are peaceful.  Evans was here when that wasn’t the case.

"I mean I walked through downtown and it was tear gas and all that but look at all the buildings there boarded up," says Evans. 

There’s not a current estimate of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis but most service groups say it’s gone up. 

Terry didn’t feel comfortable giving me his last name. He lost his job a few weeks ago and has been on the streets. He was downtown last weekend, when chaos erupted.

He says he'd like to see city, state and community leaders come together to make change.
"Straighten out a whole bunch of stuff out, needs to be straightened out, for a long time. Like the brutality, the homelessness, the housing and stuff like that," he says, "everything."

Andrea DeMink runs the Pour House. It’s a local street outreach nonprofit for people experiencing homelessness.  When the pandemic hit, she had to make changes. The group used to offer communal meals, now it’s just her in the van handing out food, water, masks.

"I'm in about two square feet as you can see, and we just kept coming out to ensure that people had access to food, you know clothing, blankets, hygiene and also to know where to connect to assistance," says DeMink. 

She serves people at University Park every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon and did not miss a day in the COVID-19 shutdown.

Today about more than 100 people stop by. 

"The climate down here has become very dangerous for the people that we serve," says DeMInk, "You know, some of these folks literally sleep on the sidewalks, you know, and near the streets which have tear gas residue all over them, you know things that people don’t think about."

But she says she supports the protesters.

"As we know Black lives matter, and what's happened has been horrific, and we need a systemic change," says DeMink. 

Crystal Wilson picks up a bag of food. Wilson says she grew up in the state’s child welfare system and has been a victim of police brutality.

"When injustice has been happening for so long, when you hurt people that love, hard… this is what happens," says Wilson. 

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