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State homeless assessment plan being piloted in 4 cities

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who has been under fire for evicting homeless people from the city’s waterfront, said the city is one of four that will pilot a state program to assess homeless people and prioritize those who are most in need of services.

The other pilot cities are Bloomington, Lafayette and Evansville, Henry said.

The initial phase of the coordinated assessment pilot program being developed by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will have the cities focus on people who suffer from disabilities such as substance abuse or mental illness and have either been homeless for at least a year or have had four episodes of homelessness within three years. It will begin in April.

Henry, surrounded by several city council members and social service agency leaders, called the program a “unique opportunity as our entire community continues proactive efforts to assist those in need of help and direction.”

“Our social service agencies, along with this administration, are committed to being part of the solution as we come together to make a meaningful difference,” Henry said.

Fort Wayne, which is Indiana’s second-largest city, handed out eviction notices late last year to homeless people living on or near the riverfront. Since then, community members and homeless activists have appeared at several city council meetings to protest the evictions.

Tiffany Bailey, director of 211 services, income and basic needs for the United Way, said the assessment process will eliminate some of the randomness associated with obtaining shelter in Fort Wayne. The city’s homeless support system is over capacity, she said, and available bed space is assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

“This tool and this coordinated assessment will allow us to be able to look at individuals and prioritize them and be able to make sure those who are the most vulnerable in our community are provided those bed spaces ahead of time,” she said.

Rebecca Karcher, who represents the city on Fort Wayne’s Planning Council on Homelessness, said that by April, the city will have decided whether there will be one central location or multiple locations throughout the city where homeless individuals and families can receive assessments.

The pilot cities and a technical assistance provider will share information every two weeks “and learn from each other,” Karcher said.