Organizations addressing housing issues in Porter County banded together on
Monday to announce the No Place Like Home initiative, a ten-year plan to end
homelessness throughout the county.
The plan is the product of the Porter County Coalition for Affordable
Housing made up of businesses, churches, retirement homes and homeless
shelters. The Porter County Commissioners, the City of Valparaiso, the City
of Portage and the Town of Chesterton and others provided funding for the
Barb Young, president of the Porter County Community Foundation, said the
coalition has been meeting over several years to create a “road map” of the
steps to take and identify the needs involved.
The group hired the Chicago-based Social IMPACT Research Center for $35,000
to assess the statistics of homelessness and the primary factors putting
county residents at greater risk for homelessness.
Social IMPACT collected data surveying service providers, businesses,
housing developers and elected officials and helped formulate the ten-year
plan which all can be downloaded from its website,
The report is also available on Websites of coalition members:
Amy Rynell of Social IMPACT said the number of homeless persons in Porter
County for January 2011 was 154 adults, many of them women, and 75 children,
an increase over 2010 figures.
Over 2,200 children and 8,068 adults were living below the poverty line – a
household income of $18,530 or less – in 2009. Hebron is estimated to be the
community with the highest rate of poverty (14.9 percent) while Dune Acres
had the lowest (.8 percent). Chesterton, Burns Harbor and Porter were in the
middle with seven to ten percent of residents living in poverty.
Well over one-quarter of households in the county have an annual income
below $35,000, Rynell said, while it costs more than $39,000 to support a
family of three per year.
“The cost of living is much higher than what common households are making,”
There were 215 homeless students in county schools in 2010. Rynell said
homeless students have a 20 percent lower graduation rate than their peers.
Inadequate income and lack of good paying jobs were chief reasons why
homelessness exists in Porter County. Low educational attainment poses a
challenge to finding good jobs for families to work their way out of
poverty, Rynell said.
Rynell also added households in Porter County spend 30 percent or more of
their income for housing, almost double the amount households were paying
nearly a decade ago. Increased housing costs left families burdened, with
less money for food and medication.
One-third of the homeless persons counted in the 2011 county report said
they were victims of domestic violence.
Speaking on her experience of becoming a victim of spousal abuse, Jennifer
Dillin of Valparaiso gave emotional testimony to an auditorium of about 200
people on how she found herself homeless after escaping her husband when
they lived in Phoenix, Ariz. Her case illustrates that it is possible anyone
could find themselves without a home, she said.
“There are many different faces of homelessness,” said Dillin.
Meanwhile, Social IMPACT also found there to be 2,233 subsidized housing
units in Porter County. Eleven percent of these subsidies, however, are
predicted to be expired by the end of 2015, which Rynell said could put more
rental housing at risk if those units are returned to market rate rents.
The county has 222 homeless system beds, 70 of which are transitional beds.
With the increasing number of homeless persons, many in need of assistance
are being turned away.
Many homeless are staying in transitional housing where they can receive
support services that will ready them for permanent housing.
The study reports long waiting lists for the affordable housing units that
exist in the county. Another trend shows an increase in the number of
residents “doubling up” or moving in with friends or relatives, spurred by
the growth of foreclosures.
Almost all places offering housing aid (94.4 percent) find it difficult to
place their clients in Porter County, the report said.
Groups working to find homes include The Caring Place and Housing
Opportunities, Inc. of Valparaiso and Gabriel’s Horn Homeless Shelter in
United Way of Porter County President Sharon Kish said those in poverty
should first seek assistance from their township trustees before trying
Ten Year Plan
The coalition, with assistance from Social IMPACT, developed 15 separate
goals focusing on increasing affordable housing and homeless prevention.
“All residents will have access to a safe, affordable home in Porter County
including the resources and support services necessary to prevent and end
homelessness,” the report says.
Education is a major part of the plan. The coalition aims to expand life
skills for children and adults and encourage prevention options for
residents on the brink of becoming homeless.
Furthermore, one of the goals is to increase participation in programs
assisting community members with managing their physical and mental health.
Other goals include growing the coalition for affordable housing, adopting a
Housing First model within the system, and seeking funding to support the
new system with national and state grants.
During the first year, the coalition plans to increase access to stable and
affordable housing by taking inventories of housing available, meeting with
40 private landlords “to identify barriers to renting to vulnerable
tenants,” develop homelessness prevention-based programs with public school
systems, assess job training programs and raise community awareness.
How You Can Help
Attendees at Monday’s presentation were offered instructions on what
individual citizens can do to help the homeless prevention effort. They
• Help raise funds by hosting fundraisers or making donations to one of the
local coalition members or participating foundations.
• Spread the word about the program to social media and newspapers.
• Volunteer time by joining a Plan to End Homelessness Committee.
• Help develop affordable housing by asking builders to set aside affordable
units in new developments.
• Sponsor a talk on homelessness at local churches or clubs.
• Help those in need find the right services.
• Advocate the plan to elected officials or candidates running for office.
• Assess your business to see if wages are high enough relative to the local
cost of housing.
• Work with a non-profit group to garner donations.
• Treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect.
Porter County Aging and Community Services Director Bruce Linder echoed
Dillin’s statement that “homelessness can happen to anybody at any time” and
said the community needs “to stay away from being prejudiced and jaded.”
“Each one of us can do a little bit of something,” he said.