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Housing program moves closer to approval in legislature

A groundbreaking new program to help Indiana’s homeless find housing and other support services is moving closer to final approval in the Indiana General Assembly, according to State Rep. Earl Harris, Jr. (D-East Chicago).

By a 99-0 margin, representatives approved Senate Bill 242, which would create the Indiana Housing First Program. Since the measure passed through the House without changes, it will advance to Gov. Eric Holcomb for final approval.

Passage of the program would represent a victory for Harris, a co-sponsor of the legislation, whose parents, former State Reps. Earl Harris and Donna Harris, considered Indiana Housing First among their top priorities during their time as lawmakers.

“Our driving force has been the steadfast belief that the state of Indiana would directly confront the problems that are faced by homeless people, and provide them with solutions,” Harris said.

The program is designed to provide housing and support services for eligible people who have a serious and persistent mental illness, a chronic chemical addiction, or a chronic and persistent mental illness with a co-occurring chronic chemical addiction.

“It asks that the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) create a plan by January 2018 that would move eligible people into housing and give them support services that would include employment assistance and job training, treatment for substance abuse and addiction, help with education and gaining life skills, and treatment to help manage mental and physical health conditions,” Harris said.

“How does this help? For those people who are chronically homeless, the condition itself aggravates their problems with mental health and addiction. By giving them a place to live, and providing them with counseling and other assistance, I believe we can help them regain control of their lives,” he added.

Indiana Housing First is based upon a similar program from Utah that has successfully managed to reduce the numbers of homeless people in that state to practically zero.

“Perhaps the most important thing that this program will provide is hope,” Harris said. “It tells folks that they do not have to accept their condition, that there are people and programs that can help them face their demons, and they can return to society and live happy, productive lives.

“That was the dream that drove my parents, and particularly my mom, to work on this program, and that is why I am particularly delighted that my colleagues have moved in a such a strong bipartisan manner to see Indiana Housing First become closer to reality,” he concluded.

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