Bloomington Homeless Coalition was founded in early August by Bloomington resident Harry Collins to help the unhoused population in Bloomington.
The coalition is different from other resources for people experiencing homelessness because it focuses on collaboration between the unhoused population and those who want to help, Collins said.
“I am a founder and leader of it, and I’m still homeless. I’m still out here in the tents,” Collins said.
He said places such as the Shalom Community Center and Wheeler Mission may work to help those who are unhoused, but many of the people employed there may not have experienced homelessness. Conditions change constantly for people living on the streets, Collins said. Without firsthand knowledge it may be hard to see what people experiencing homelessness really need, he said.
Goals of Bloomington Homeless Coalition
The short-term goals of the coalition are to provide people experiencing homelessness with resources such as jackets and food, board member Marc Teller said. Bloomington Homeless Coalition makes these resources more accessible by taking them directly to the person in need, Teller said.
“So you don't have to go to some brick and mortar place, you don't have to stand in line, which is always demeaning to them,” Teller said. “You'd think they'd have all day to just walk around, but these are people that still do work.”
Resources are also made more accessible by having a no-questions-asked policy, board member Janna Arthur said. Arthur said she estimates the coalition has received more than $10,000 in money and item donations.
The longer term goals of the Bloomington Homeless Coalition are to get people off the streets and into housing, Arthur said.
Teller said one of the most important goals of the coalition is working on helping people experiencing homelessness feel like they are a part of the community. He said the first meeting he went to, he got the feeling that the unhoused population felt like they weren’t loved by the community.
“We're also there to let them know you are loved," Teller said. "Unconditionally, you're a member of this community, and you're a part of it, and you're a big part of it."
Arthur said the coalition has helped people start a conversation with those experiencing homelessness.
“People that may not have ever been around people experiencing homelessness are driving straight up to the cemetery and delivering meals, they're delivering resources, they're interacting with people," Arthur said. “Because at the end of the day, we're all just people.”
What started as Collins and others posting flyers on the streets to start a conversation with the unhoused population has turned into an organization in the process of becoming a 501c3. Arthur said IU Student Legal Services helped the coalition file the paperwork free of charge. Having the status of a nonprofit organization will help the coalition raise larger amounts of money to get people into housing, she said.
COVID-19’s effect on the unhoused population
Collins said the pandemic has made it harder for people experiencing homelessness to find employment, especially when their competition is someone living in a house.
Teller said people also have an unfair perception of people experiencing homelessness who get COVID-19.
“For some reason when a homeless person gets the same disease that a housed person has, the homeless person is blamed for being dirty, or infecting others, when they're not going into restaurants, they're not going to class,” he said.
In terms of resources, COVID-19 has made social service agencies less accessible for the unhoused population, Arthur said. If someone were to get COVID-19 at one of those agencies, they would have to close down to follow COVID-19 protocol, meaning people experiencing homelessness wouldn’t have access to the services.
The pandemic has led to more people experiencing homelessness for the first time, Arthur said, putting an additional strain on social services agencies. For the coalition, there seems to be a greater need for resources, she said.
“I can't keep donations in stock,” Arthur said. “As soon as I get a carload of blankets and shoes and clothes, I drive to one of the places people hang and they take everything from the car.”
How to help
As the season gets colder, the Bloomington Homeless Coalition is seeking donations to help those who are on the streets, Collins said. He said resources they need include blankets, tents, camping heaters, blankets and other necessities that will help those experiencing homelessness stay safe.
For anyone wanting to help, they can join the Bloomington Homeless Coalition’s Facebook group and reach out to a board member with resources or skills they have, Arthur said.
The coalition is also seeking people who can help deliver resources, give material or financial donations and help with computer assistance and research, Arthur said.
“People should give year-round but if anybody has anything right now, like we have people that are going to die right now this winter,” Arthur said. “So if people have, enough, if they could just give a little to people that don't have anything that would be helpful.”