INDIANAPOLIS -- A man with a big heart who has struggled to find housing for himself and others in Indianapolis over the past decade now has a roof over his head.
After living the last three years on the streets of Indianapolis, Mike Schwing now has an apartment on 38th Street.
“It’s an efficiency. The bathroom and little closet area are off that direction and then I pretend this is two rooms – the kitchen and the dining room," he says. "And then I have my big room divided up into a living room and bedroom.”
It’s a big change for the 53-year old who spent his nights in a homeless camp in Military Park downtown with about two dozen others. During the day, he’d get cleaned up, and head to the Central Library.
“I’m a genealogist – trace family trees. And I like languages and history such things so, I have hobbies and I maintained some but not all of my hobbies when I was homeless," Schwing says. "I maintain as normal a life as you can maintain homeless. So while I make my bed now – before I would pack up my bed and move it because if you left it behind they would throw it away.”
Schwing learned about services available to homeless people – job training, addictions counseling, and housing, so he could help the others in his camp get off the streets.
“The system houses people, but it’s slow at it and you have to have all this list of conditions to get housed," Schwing says. "And that we lose some people because if they could follow rules and do everything they were supposed to do – they wouldn’t be homeless in the first place – including me. I mortgaged my house to help other people. I don’t do drugs.”
Schwing opened his home to the homeless in Brownsburg, then like dominos, things fell apart in 2004.
“My car broke down. I lost my job. Working out of a rental car you can’t make any money," Schwing said. "I couldn’t pay my mortgage. It fell behind. Twice, I went into foreclosure and I reached a point where I could not do anything about it. I don’t have a back-up system. So I went to Wheeler Mission.”
For several years Schwing dealt with homelessness, but also stayed at times with friends and family. While living in a group home in Cumberland and learning how to manage it, the operator left and Schwing stepped in – providing housing for himself and others. As the paying residents dwindled, so did the resources for the group home and he became homeless again in 2012.
“I’m the kind of person that cannot walk past someone I can help and not try to help," Schwing said. "That doesn’t mean I end up helping them. That doesn’t mean the help I give them is the help they need. That doesn’t mean they go for the help.”
That help came to him through the IMPD homeless outreach team – including Andrea De Mink, founder of The Pourhouse – working to get the homeless housed and Rebekah Bricker, a crisis counselor with Midtown Mental Health.
“He calls Andrea and I still – finding people on the street trying to get them connected to the right services. He just really cares about folks outside,” Bricker says.
Schwing has an appointment in early November with Vocational Rehab to help him find employment. He says his perfect job would be behind a computer – doing research, genealogy, secretarial – or working for a pizza place.
De Mink says having a roof over his head has already improved his health and she believes the best is yet to come.
“Being inside and realizing that enables him to go even further, I think he’s going to be amazing in his – well, he’s already amazing – but his future is still very bright,” she says.
Schwing is one of about 80 people that De Mink and Bricker have gotten into housing in the last 14 months.