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Homeless Census aims to help those down on their luck: The hard part is ‘asking for help’

Sheron Sherman came to Northwest Indiana from New Orleans about 18 months ago to take a position in finance at a new healthcare company.

He admitted the job didn’t work out, partly due to drinking problems. With two master’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in accounting, he figured he’d be on his own and finding a new job quickly.

That didn’t happen.

...-Tribune met him at a Gary School job fair last April. In July the money ran out and he was homeless for the first time.

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A group of US Veterans Administration volunteers found him sitting in the doorway at the Gary Metro Center on 5th Avenue on a snowy Wednesday morning during the annual point-in-time homeless count.

He was her first veteran of the day. They were excited to offer services. They said they could help him get a driver’s license, arrange free Lyft rides, a cell phone and a new copy of his military separation papers. They left information about housing at the Veterans Village.

He seemed to hesitate. He got along well, smiled and was grateful, and ended up hugging everyone before they left.

Would he accept her offer?

“That’s the hard part,” Sherman, 52, later said. “The hardest thing for me in my whole life was asking for help.”

“And the thing is, I don’t know how to fix this,” he said. “How do you make yourself more vulnerable? I really don’t know what the right answer is to be honest.”

This year, volunteers were expecting a higher number, NWI Executive Director Sharron Liggins’ network homeless agency Continuum of Care said.

The signs were there. Last year, 1,100 people called to ask for resources, she said.

They also work with different federal definitions. HUD considers people on the street homeless, while the US Department of Education also adds children and families who are couch surfing or “doubling up” with relatives.

The census is always a bird’s-eye view that never captures the full extent. Last year they found 272 people — including 63 children and 22 people between the ages of 18 and 24, Liggins said. Altogether they formed 212 households.

Rising rents are a problem. Where someone used to get an apartment for $800 or $900, the rent is now $1,200.

“It’s a huge swing,” she said.

At the Sojourner Truth House in Gary, a day care center for women and young children, the affiliated accommodations — Missionaries of Charity and Lydia House — can accommodate a total of 26 people, said Pam Key, director of client services. At the moment they have 10.

Rising rents have made it harder than ever to attract clients to apartments. Before the pandemic, it might have taken 90 to 180 days for someone to set up an apartment. Key recently heard from someone who waited 9 months. Shelters often have a 90 day deadline, in some cases they have had to beg to place someone there.

“Ladies here who have been diligently doing whatever they need to do,” she said, “and we are still awaiting accommodation.”

Earlier this morning, coordinators Nina Johnson, Lorese Wesley, and Erin Sherrow Hayes prepared about 15 volunteers to set off from the Calumet Township Multipurpose Center.

Every year, teams go out day and night to search alleys, under bridges, gas stations, truck stops, McDonald’s, makeshift shelters and hotels for people who are ‘protected’ or ‘unprotected’ e.g. B. 61st Street and Broadway.

They distribute blankets, biscuits, hats, gloves, soap and toiletries, tuna, some other non-perishable foods, and resource sheets for feeders, pantries, and food stamps.

“When you lose a paycheck, your entire life is turned upside down,” said Wesley, chief executive director of Veterans Life Changing Services. “They’re losing those jobs and going into crisis mode.”

Back at the Gary Metro Center, Sherman said he wanted to get his life in order and get back to work.

He spends most of his time in the library. No one bothers the homeless, and it’s open until 8pm, later than the metro station. But he said people would be better served if they were allowed to stay on the ground floor of the station.

“We just want to stay warm,” he said.

He told volunteers he knew of “three to four couples” living in abandoned houses within a “block radius.”

Can you tell us where you are, one asked.

“I don’t want that,” he said.

When asked later, he said he personally knew maybe a few hundred who lived in abandoned houses.

There are probably at least 100, Liggins said. When they find some people in the elements, volunteers do their best to offer services.

“You are scared. They don’t want to be arrested,” she said. “They are hiding. It’s a difficult situation.”

At some point in her life something happens that puts her in a vulnerable place.

“Don’t blame them, support their needs,” she said.