Fishers group brings food and hope to the homeless
By Ray Compton
For most Americans and Hoosiers, Sunday afternoons represent a time to go to baseball games, attend events involving their children or go to the movies.
But such is not the case regarding a group of residents from Fishers that is on a mission to improve the lives of those in central Indiana who have little time to think about different entertainment settings. These neighbors are instead worried about their next meal, their next change of clothing or their next escape from life’s struggles that frequently confront them.
The saviors in this episode of a community cause is Food 4 Souls, a Fishers based nonprofit whose members make a weekly Sunday pilgrimage to downtown Indianapolis to provide food, clothing and spiritual assistance to those who live in homeless street camps, abandoned homes or other temporary facilities. It is estimated that Food 4 Souls served over 4,000 meals to the homeless in 2013. That astonishingly annual rate has continued during the first half of 2014.
“All of us have a passion,” said Dawn Adams, community relations director of Food 4 Souls. “We want to provide hope for these people. Our ultimate aim is to build relationships so that people come to trust that we are there to walk with them if they ultimately decide they are ready for a life apart from homelessness. We desire to see lasting change.”
Food 4 Souls, a growth of Heartland Church at 96th and Hague in Fishers, has been active since 2012 when members and President Kevin Swila learned about the homeless camps that were sprouting up in downtown Indianapolis. There are as many as 10 such camps and about 70-80 persons live in the camps. Some reside in tents under bridges, while others may call an automobile or abandoned house as home. According to a 2013 Indiana University Public Policy Institute survey there are between 4800 and 8000 homeless persons living in Indianapolis.
Almost all of the homeless have suffered dramatic setbacks in life. Some are enduring addictions (drugs or alcohol), while others may endure developmental disabilities, mental health issues or have criminal backgrounds. The rise of home foreclosures has driven some to the streets.
“Homelessness can happen to any of us someday,” Adams said.
Indeed, recent statistics indicate the spiral downward to homelessness is possible for many Americans. A Washington Post survey released three years ago noted that the homeless population in the United States tripled in a three-year period. And the number of homeless could be much higher. Due to the challenges that census takers face in tracking down homeless persons, the number may be much higher than assessed. Census takers may overlook some living quarters of the homeless or not take into consideration more than one family that lives in a homeless environment.
In Indiana, there is another daunting number in regards to the homeless. Nationally, over 40 percent of the homeless are children. Indiana ranks 24th among states with homeless children. And another national statistic stabs the heart when it comes to thinking of the homeless. It is estimated that over one-third of homeless mothers have attempted suicide during her life as homeless.
However, all is not dismal when it comes to confronting the homeless battle in Indiana. Enter Food 4 Souls and its army of devoted volunteers. Some members prepare hot food on Sundays. Others pursue and collect donations (such as toiletries, grocery gift cards, clothing, etc.). And a core group of six to 10 weekly delivers the food and other wares to the street people. These volunteers also hope to open a pathway to recovery and hope for those mentally or physically stranded. Prayer and counseling are the weapons of choice for Food 4 Souls.
“I was frightened the first time I went to the camps,” recalled Adams, who joined Food 4 Souls in 2013. “The only thing that I saw about the camps and people was what I saw on television. But once you get there and you meet the people, it is an eye-opening experience. Many of them become your friends. You realize they are also the children of God and you realize that many of them want to move beyond where they are.”
One of Adams’ first-hand experiences involved gaining the trust of one of the homeless. Eventually, the two became friends and Adams’ “friend” now resides in a recovery house in Indianapolis. It would be called a victory, for now.
“I love him dearly,” said Adams. “You must remember that they are moving to the other side of the world when they enter recovery programs. It is a whole new game for them in the recovery situations. They have to take baby steps.”
Part of the journey for the homeless may include a connection to faith and God. Sessions include prayer and the group’s mission statement on the Food 4 Souls website includes to “serve our homeless community with unconditional love and acceptance by providing home in Christ, meeting daily needs and aligning resources to those who are ready to move into a life beyond homelessness.”
Swila and his teammates continue to aggressively pursue partners for their mission. Donations may include toiletries, socks, under garments, food or gift cards for food. Additional information on their efforts may be discovered at www.food4souls.com.
Finally, Adams believes the return for new volunteers far outweighs an individual’s investment of time and supplies.
“Here is an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and make a difference,” she noted. “We are winning the battle, but we have to continue to work with our homeless. We have to encourage them and not set them up for failure.”
Homelessness in Indianapolis
Estimated number: 4,800 to 8000
17.9 persons experiencing homelessness per every 10,000 people in Indianapolis vs. the national average of 20.2
Causes of Homelessness: job loss, incarceration, domestic violence, health issues
Veterans make up one-quarter of the homeless in Indianapolis
The majority are young females (usually with families) and older, single males.
The majority are African American. Whites are unsheltered more than any other ethnic group.
One quarter (25 percent) are employed.
The majority (77 percent) have a high school education or higher.
Chronic substance abuse is the primary medical condition, followed by mental illness.
Indianapolis showed a three percent decrease in the overall population of those experiencing homelessness since the last count, which was conducted in January of 2012.
There was a substantial decrease, 31 percent, in persons living on the street (unsheltered).
Fewer families are homeless. The study found a 15 percent decrease in families experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis.
Findings from a 2013 study of Indianapolis’s homeless population by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute for the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP).