Kempton Community Center 
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Homeless in Tipton Co.

My Hometown: The Good, The Bad, The Unknown

Tipton has been my hometown for most of my 43 years. Unlike a lot of people, after I finished school, I chose to come back here to live. I truly love this town. In my mind, it is the ideal place to live and raise a family. We have an excellent school system, a library that we all can be proud of, a beautiful park and recreation center, a fine community center, churches and ministers that serve Tipton very well and a state of the art, newly renovated hospital.
When I talk about Tipton to friends who are not familiar with our small city, I often refer to it as "Mayberry – all grown up." Yes, we have our small town quirks. It is true, as time progresses, we will have growing pains and local controversies will arise when it comes to growth and change. There are people who seem to know everybody's business whether it be true or otherwise. Most of the time, it's otherwise. When it comes to our core beliefs though, we are a close nit community. One does not have to look any farther back than to April of this year, when so many of our friends and neighbors lost so much due to an unexpected and almost unprecedented flood. People came together to help others all throughout the county. People that they didn't know, or maybe didn't much care for. Why? Simply, because it was the right thing to do. Tipton is made up of a solid group of people who help people in need. We don't do it for any other reason but because it is the right thing to do. The Golden Rule in action.
all organizations with statistics say that these numbers are very conservative. It is nearly impossible to have an accurate count because many homeless people are transient and
Not unlike other communities, we also have had problems and tragedies. There have been murders, rapes, beatings and armed robberies. I think, unless we have had our heads in the sand, we all recognize that drugs and their affects made their way into this town decades ago. While Tipton offers so many reasons for a family to move here. . . or stay here . . . we are not Mayberry of 1960. We have plenty of good . . . bad . . . and yes, unknown. In a conversation with a casual acquaintance recently, I was made aware of a problem that honestly, made me stop in my tracks and pause in disbelief. I am not easily surprised, let alone shocked. When I was talking with this person, and listening to every word this person was saying, I was literally dumbfounded. The problem, that has been an issue in larger, more metropolitan areas ... I was told ... had made its way to Tipton. And not in a small way.

The problem? Homelessness. After listening to what was said, my first thought was disbelief. "No way. Not here," I said. "You mean there are people who just bounce from couch to couch, friend to friend, right? Not truly homeless?" 
They chuckled and shook their head. Speaking to this person was just the start of my journey and discovery into this issue. This person, who is "locallly" born and raised here, and would be someone I would consider to be "in the know" asked me to sit down and listen further. 
The things he said and the situations he passed on made me sick. And saddened. And ashamed. Ashamed that in this town of 5,000 give or take, and as a person who I feel is fairly active in the community and on social media and at least somewhat perceptive, how did I not know that this problem exists and is very real in Tipton? S
ome general background: According to The Light House Mission Ministries Inc, based out of Terre Haute, in any given year, 4.1 million Americans will be homeless for an extended period of time. More than 944,000 people are without homes on any given day. In Indiana, more than 21,000 people are estimated to be homeless a night. 

Most people become homeless due to circumstances that have overwhelmed them, combined with lack of a family support structure. Others, particularly teenagers, often lose their housing due to an actively hostile, perhaps even hazardous, abusive, or non-supportive family environment. "Average people" without a good friend and family support structure can be overwhelmed by events such as domestic abuse, divorce, unemployment or illness and find themselves without housing as well. Substance abuse can also play a role in a person's inability to have and maintain a home.
The sad reality is, many of us are just a few paychecks away from potentially being homeless, or at the very least, in dire straits. 
There are many misconceptions and stereotypical thoughts regarding homeless people too. There is a perception of homeless people in our society that is created and upheld by a vast collection of myths and assumptions, most of which are wrong. These misconceptions are dangerous as they seriously interfere with attempts to help those in need. 
Everyone who is homeless are druggies and drunks: This is a harmful stereotype because it closes many doors for people without homes. Many are neither drug addicts nor alcoholics. While close to half of adult homeless people in the United States currently struggle with addictions or have struggled with addictions in the past many of them do not have and have not had a drug or alcohol problem. Employers and landlords that believe this are unlikely to hire or rent to them. Even some homeless shelters are hampered by this misconception. Some of them require substance abuse counseling for all who use their services, even those without addictions, taking up valuable time that people could use to seek employment or to work odd jobs. 
Most of the people who are homeless are criminals: Most homeless people are not criminals and many of those who are technically criminals have only committed what are called status crimes. Status crimes include getting arrested for loitering, sleeping in public, or trespassing. Those are called status crimes because they are things impossible to avoid doing if one does not have a home. 
This misconception is one of the most harmful because it creates an unreasonable fear of homeless people because those who spread it can't or don't distinguish between people who got a ticket for sleeping on a bench and violent criminals. It makes many who would probably help people afraid to do so. It prevents people from getting hired or from renting a place to live. This misconception also makes it difficult for charitable organizations to open or expand facilities that provide services for the needy due to objections from nearby residents who fear for their safety.
 People who are homeless are lazy: While more than half of all adult homeless people in America are unemployed it doesn't indicate laziness. Many of them lost their jobs through no fault of their own – through corporate downsizing or due to injury, illness, old age or disability. 

Those well enough and young enough to work have many barriers to gaining employment. They may be putting in dozens of applications a day but never get an interview due to the prejudice created by the strong and commonly held negative beliefs about homeless people. Many potential employers require a mailing address and/or a working telephone number on the application. No address ... no consideration for a job. 
Those with jobs are often underemployed or don't earn enough to afford rent. Another issue is that even if a person works full time, he or she may earn enough to afford an apartment but find themselves unable to rent one because of the income requirements many complexes have. Many rental properties require renters to make three times as much as the rent costs. 

People who are homeless are mentally ill: According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 1 in 5 of all homeless Americans are truly mentally ill. Those who are mentally ill are mainly ill in ways completely harmless to anyone but themselves. There's also some question in the medical community as to whether or not those people who are mentally ill or emotionally disturbed became mentally ill as a consequence of trauma, violence, and other stresses experienced while living without adequate shelter. 
This belief about homeless people is dangerous because it, again, creates fear and leads to suggestions that they should all be rounded up and institutionalized instead of helped. While mental illness does cause people to fail at independent living, it should be treated rather than feared. Anything that portrays an entire class of people as dangerous and out of control is harmful, irresponsible, and wrong. 
The government, churches, or charitable organizations will help them if they only ask: Government funding is limited, and that is even more true with private organizations. Donations for private organizations that try to help the homeless has been spread out even thinner in recent years. Charities and churches across the nation have been having to turn away more people in recent years. In Indianapolis, it has been estimated that there isn't shelter space for even 10 percent of those in need. Simply getting shoes to wear is difficult. It's not uncommon either for local city governments to come up with new restrictions aimed at closing down soup-kitchens and other assistance specifically to run the homeless out of town (and into someone else's jurisdiction). 
Throughout the next couple of weeks, I am going to share the stories of some locals, who are homeless. I will share their stories with you. I have promised each of the people I have spent time with that I will not use their real names, but I will tell of their experiences, much of it . . in their own words. My hope is that as you read, you will listen to their words and do as I did. Wake up to the problem that's here. Nothing can be done if we fail to recognize that something wrong exists. I ask that you read with an open mind and with empathy. These people may have been your neighbors, or in your children's class in school, or sat beside you in church. A common theme with each of the people I spoke with rings true. Each one said in their own way
"All I want is a chance to make it on my own. I want to work for my paycheck and I want a roof over my head , and I don't want to be looked down upon anymore." A hand up – not a permanent hand out. I am sure that you will learn as much from hearing their stories as I have. Oh yes, my friends, this problem does exist in our "Mayberry ... all grown up." More to come

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