Community leaders experience homelessness for 48 hours

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 6:57 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Some city officials are trying to warm back up after spending 48 hours experiencing life as someone dealing with homelessness.

Aurora, an organization focused on helping those dealing with homelessness find permanent housing, organized what they called the Homeless Experience Project to raise money and awareness for those in need.

The clock started ticking on Thursday at noon, counting down 48 hours that community leaders would spend in the life of someone experiencing homelessness.

“I can tell you it was humbling, it was mentally and physically exhausting,” said Zac Heronemus, a city councilman who participated in the event.

Officials say Evansville has the highest amount of homelessness per capita in the state of Indiana, and the project gave leaders a chance to visit soup kitchens and see the healthcare and mental health services available to those in need.

The event came at an important time. Officials with the United Caring Services shelter say this November has been the coldest one they’ve seen in 6 or 7 years. When the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below for 3 consecutive hours, they call a “white flag” night, and open up more space for people to escape the cold, but their hands are tied if it isn’t quite cold enough.

“That’s the hard part in social work, whenever people are asking ‘is there a white flag tonight?’” said Krista Board of United Caring Services shelter, “and then you have to be the one, or our staff has to be the one to say ‘no, it’s not cold enough tonight.’ Thirty three degrees isn’t cold enough but 31 degrees is. It really doesn’t, I would imagine it does not feel that much different if you’re outside all night when it’s 33 degrees versus 31 degrees.”

But that’s changing this year. Some of the money raised through the event is going to a new partnership between Aurora and the shelter, which is making every night a white flag night December through February, regardless of temperature.

Zac Heronemus, who is also the executive director of Aurora, was humbled when he saw regular people ignoring them, but homeless people helping, and without knowing who he was, pointing him to Aurora.

“It’s a testament to the work that we’re doing, but also, you know, it gives me greater motivation for doing a better job to serve them and house more folks year after year.”

Officials say they hope the event will help shape public policy to provide more aid to those in need.

If you’d like to help, officials with the shelter say they need more than money and clothes. They invite people to come down and volunteer at the shelter and get to know those in need.

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