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Horizon House taking steps to expand diversity, equity, inclusion

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Horizon House, an agency that helps the homeless, is expanding its advocacy work for Indy’s homeless population by building on efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion for staff and clients.

Indianapolis has seen an increase in the number of homeless individuals over the last few years. Currently, the Circle City is home to about 1,600 people who are homeless.

There are a lot of reasons people end up at Horizon House, says executive director Teresa Wessel, but there are even more resources available to help get them out.

“We start to think about families and what are some of the systemic issues around poverty and around homelessness?” Wessel said. “And those that are impacted by it, what can we do, what kind of programs can we offer?”

Wessel says the work they are doing to improve outcomes for clients is about more than just checking off boxes. It’s about making operational changes that, in essence, shape Horizon House’s DNA, acording to Wessel.

“We thought that we needed to have some intentional actions around making sure we had diversity [and] had all voices at the table,” Wessel said.

Improving equity, diversity, and inclusion is important for Horizon House because nearly half of the clients who use its services identified as Black or African-American. In 2021, 47% of Horizon House’s client base was Black or African-American.

Art Mandelbaum, president of Horizon House’s board of directors, is taking on the task of moving forward with educating staff and clients in diversity, equity and inclusion.

“One of the things that I said when we started this was that some people are going to get offended,” Mandelbaum said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable and it should be, and not just for staff, but for board members and even benefactors.”

Mandelbaum says Horizon House will add an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion to the board of directors and hire outside consultants.

“Being uncomfortable now, but working towards being more comfortable, and I have an understanding of other people’s vantage point, and that’s what I think is so important,” Mandelbaum said.

The work of Horizon House is vital as the city of Indianapolis works toward a goal of ending homelessness by 2023.

As the city of Indianapolis works towards its goal of ending homelessness by 2023, the work of Horizon House and people like Wessel and Mandelbaum is vital.