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Homelessness in Indianapolis is declining, but African Americans are still overrepresented

A count of the homeless population in Indianapolis in January showed a slight decline in homelessness since last year, but the proportion of African Americans in the homeless population went up.

There were 1,567 people experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis when the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) and volunteers conducted the annual Point-in-Time Count on Jan. 30, the lowest number since at least 2013. Last year there were 1,682 people experiencing homelessness. But the proportion of African Americans was up from 56% last year to 61% this year.

Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, executive director of CHIP, said at a press conference May 23 at Horizon House part of the reason African Americans are overrepresented in the homeless population is because of evictions.

"That is something that's alarming and something we need to start paying attention to," she said.

Haring-Cozzi said CHIP has started working with the In-

diana University Public Policy Institute to do research on evictions in Marion County, adding there is "definitely a racial component to that." She said they're also looking at the link between homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system, since African Americans make up a disproportionate number of people in jails and prisons and it's often difficult for ex-offenders to find affordable housing because of rental policy restrictions for people with a criminal record. It can also be difficult to find a well-paying job.

Vop Osili, president of the Indianapolis CityCounty Council, said the council has been supportive of homelessness intervention and prevention and will continue in that direction under his leadership.

"We want to make sure our homeless neighbors are housed, wrapped around the surface and have long-term sustainability," he said. "The things we can do are be supportive and hopefully provide funding that can move the initiatives forward."

Osili highlighted an ordinance the council approved in February to decrease the amount of time people can park for free downtown and in Broad Ripple. Part of what the city is using those additional funds for is paying panhandlers to clean sidewalks.

Not every councilor has been friendly toward the city's homeless. Councilman Michael McQuillen introduced a "no sit, no lie" proposal last year that would have prohibited anyone from sitting or lying in the Mile Square from 6 a.m. to midnight. McQuillen withdrew the proposal when it became obvious it wouldn't pass, and Osili said he's not worried about similar proposals coming back up.

Haring-Cozzi — along with Mayor Joe Hogsett, Horizon House Executive Director Teresa Wessel — emphasized the one-night count is a snapshot of homelessness in the city. Jan. 30 also happened to be one of the coldest nights of the year, which means some statistics — how many homeless were unsheltered, for example — may not be representative. Since the count includes people in transitional housing and emergency shelters, there isn't reason to believe the total count isn't accurate.

The biggest statistical decrease from 2018 to 2019 was the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness, a 39% decrease. Chronic homelessness includes those who have at least one disabling condition (substance abuse disorder, for example) and have been homeless consecutively for at least a year, or those who have been homeless at least four times in the past three years.

"It is true most of the numbers in this year's Point-in-Time Count are headed in the right direction," Hogsett said. "... To me, this reaffirms that the approach we've taken with our partners throughout the city, a housing-first approach, is the right approach."

Part of that approach is the Housing to Recovery Fund, launched by the mayor's office and Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) in January. CICF has committed to raising $2 million this year and $2 million next year for services to help sustain permanent housing. Getting someone into permanent housing is one challenge, but having the resources to stay there is different.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates a count of people experiencing homelessness in order to receive funding. HUD awarded nearly $137,000 this year to CHIP's Coordinated Entry System, which coordinates shelter and permanent housing in the city.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick. Jaclyn Ferguson is an intern for the Recorder.

Indiana's first African American postmistress could finally get recognition she deserves

Ida P. Hagan, born in 1888 near the Pinkston Freedom Settlement in Dubois County, has a story that for so long has been withering with time. Hagan was the first African American female postmistress in Indiana in 1904 when Dr. Alois G. Wollenmann appointed her as his assistant in the post office. She was just 16 years old.

Now, more than a century later, some of the state's leaders, headed by Sen. Mike Braun, are trying to take Hagan's story to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian

Institution museum in Washington, D.C.

Hagan lived in the Pinkston Freedom Settlement, an African American settlement founded by her great-grandfather. It was near the town of Ferdinand, where Dr. Wollenmann — who was also a pharmacist and physician — needed help with his businesses and kids after his wife died giving birth.

That Dr. Wollenmann appointed Hagan assistant postmistress was controversial in Ferdinand, a town settled in southern Dubois County in 1840 by mostly German-speaking people from central Europe. The town's people wondered why Hagan, a young Black girl, was chosen over scores of white girls who also applied.

"There was a lot of animosity, and hatred in some cases," said Glenda Steele, who spent about six years researching Hagan's life and accomplishments, "that a white girl wasn't chosen."

A 1904 article in the Jasper Herald read: "Our postmaster in Ferdinand has taken Miss Ida Hagan (colored) as his deputy. The citizens of Ferdinand do not appreciate it much." The story goes into a poem that includes the N-word.

But Hagan persevered. Aside from helping Dr. Wollenmann in the post office, she also helped "him take care of his kids. Hagan stayed with Dr. Wollenmann Monday through Friday and then went back to the settlement on the weekends. She took the time to learn German and converted to Catholicism, which led some in Ferdinand to at least respect her more.

Hagan also helped Dr. Wollenmann in his pharmacy, and she received her license in January 1909, almost five months before her 21st birthday, significant because it was standard that one needed to be at least 21 years old to be licensed. Along with her accomplishment as postmistress, Hagan was also Indiana's first documented African American female pharmacist. She studied pharmacy at the Winona Technical Institute University. of Indiana, now Butler Steele said there's a theory that Dr. Wollenmann chose Hagan as his assistant in large part because she wasn't a Democrat like most of the people in Ferdinand. Steele said she would "put a lot of stock" into that idea. Dr. Wollenmann was a Republican, and so were the Hagans.

Dr. Wolvowed against Democrat as having a his assistant as long as he was there.

No matter the reason, Hagan was good at her job. When Dr. Wollenmann died in 1912 at the age of 48, eight years after she became his assistant, Hagan was appointed to be Ferdinand's next postmistress.

Hagan didn't stay in that role for long — only before marrying Alfred about three months — Roberts, a typesetter for the Recorder, and moving to Indianapolis. But Hagan's legacy had been long established by then. She was a bright, kind and helpful person who endured through racist rhetoric from her own town's people to serve as their postmistress and a pharmacist. And she was a trailblazer all the while.

Hagan re-married in 1926 and moved north to Gary. She later moved to Detroit, where she found a calling for union activism. Hagan died in Detroit on Feb. 3, 1978.

"It's unreal," Steele said of Hagan's life. "... She had a lot of challenges in life, but as we go forth with this, you'll see that she was always determined. I think she did it in the right way because she handled herself properly."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

100 years of summer reading fun

School is out, which means many children will have free time on their hands. The Indianapolis Public Library offers a fun, educational program that celebrates the joys of reading, while keeping children intellectually engaged during summer break.

The Indianapolis Public Library will celebrate its 100th anniversary of the Summer Reading Program this year. The program, "Keepin' it 100," will run from June 3 to July 27 and participants can register at any Indianapolis Public Library branch.

Readers can either check out or download a book from any Indianapolis Public Library branch, with a library card. Once participants return books, they can head to the summer reading desk to redeem points.

Each book category has a different point value. Categories include picture books, chapter books, graphic novels and young adult novels. In addition, a family read aloud option is available for children who are unable to read.

At 100 points, readers can receive a reward bundle — an assortment of prizes from three different groups. Participants can select a free book from the first group. The second group includes prizes such as water arcade games and slime. Group three prizes include an Indianapolis Colts pass, Eiteljorg Museum pass and Indy Parks pool pass.

Fountain Square, Garfield Park, Glendale and Irvington locations will kick off the summer reading program June 1.

Raymond Featherstone, 87, received a summer reading certificate from the program in 1937. He remembers books as an important part of his family heritage. Featherstone went on to earn one

bachelor's degree and three master's degrees — including one from Harvard.

"I enjoy the reading process," Featherstone said. "It really gave me a foundation of learning."

The program is also a way for The Center for Black Literature and Culture (CBLC) to promote books about Black culture and by Black authors. CBLC leader Nichelle M. Hayes believes representation in books has a huge impact on children and offering books with diverse representation can encourage African American readers.

"I believe nobody is a reluctant reader, but they just have not found material that speaks to them," Hayes said.

For more information on the Summer Reading Program, visit

Contact newsroom intern Jaclyn Ferguson at

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana hopes new headquarters will help serve more children

As a mentoring organization more than 100 years old, Big Brothers Big Sisters doesn't have an issue with name recognition. But for the Central Indiana branch, the first floor of an insurance building north of downtown wasn't the best home base for the thousand or so children the organization serves annually. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana (BBBSCI) is ready to unveil its new 20,000-square-foot headquarters and mentoring hub in downtown Indianapolis.

The goal is twofold: The renovated building at 1433 N. Meridian St. will allow trainings and programs to take place on site, rather than having to rely on friendly partners to provide a space, and making the organization more visible will hopefully attract volunteers so BBBSCI can cut into a waitlist that's sitting steady at about 1,000 children right now.

"We've seen this demand for service really increase significantly," said Darcy Palmer-Shultz, CEO of BBBSCI. "It's great because it means families who know about Big Brothers Big Sisters want their kids involved, but on the other hand it's telling us we need to be a better job meeting that demand."

Palmer-Shultz said the goal is to have 1,500 children enrolled eventually, and she expects the organization to serve about 1,300 this year. The organization needs at least one volunteer for each student. BBBSCI — which serves Marion, Hamilton and Johnson counties — is showing off its new location to "Bigs" (volunteers) and "Littles" (children) June 1.

BBBSCI put $3 million into renovations, which started October 2018. It bought the two-story building a month earlier.

Palmer-Shultz said a new, more central location should allow BBBSCI to serve more children in the region, and once that happens, "we'll know that we made a difference here and this was the right thing to do."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.