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MUNCIE, Ind. — Muncie Mission is taking another step in its effort to build paths leading to independent living for the homeless men who first appear at the mission door seeking shelter.
Muncie Mission is building five new homes near its main operation at 1725 S. Liberty St. The homes will be an expansion of the Mission’s addiction recovery program.
Mission Director Frank Baldwin said this will be the first time the organization has undertaken building new homes on the Liberty Street block across from the Mission building. The Mission previously remodeled six houses on the block — within view of the Mission, Baldwin stressed — for 12 men who have been moving through the program meant to help them live independently.
Baldwin said Muncie Mission is now engaged in a $1.5 million fundraising effort to build the homes, called Project Greathouse, named for a late client.
Tyler Greathouse suffered bouts of heavy drinking that cost him his family and a stable career before he shoed up at the Muncie Mission, where he worked to put his life back together, according to promotional material from the organization.
“Sober for nearly two years, Tyler completed the residential treatment program, then found a job and an apartment in Muncie. But living on his own again proved perilous,” according to the mission.
When staff were unable to contact Greathouse for a wellness check, police were called and he was found dead in his apartment. Baldwin said it is difficult for men maintain sobriety once they separate from the security of the Mission. The homes provide a way learning how to live outside the shelter and still function.
Bob Scott, vice president of development at the mission, said the leadership of the organization recognized the need to serve more men outside the shelter to recover from addiction.
“One hundred percent of the people in our homes have maintained sobriety,” Baldwin said.
Mission staff keep tabs on the houses. The men pay a program fee and pay for utilities. They learn how to budget for the household and take responsibility for themselves.
“For a good number of them, this could be the nicest home they’ve ever lived in,” Baldwin said of the transitional housing program.
So far the homes have been for men only, but in the future, with the newly built homes, families might be able to be housed.
“If family reunification is part of recovery we could place a family in one of the houses,” Baldwin said.
It’s important for the men to know they have a place to go other than jail or prison, he added. “They need a place to land.”
Serving the neighborhood
But the housing program hasn’t only served the clients. When the program started in 2016 there was pushback from residents of the community worried about what transitional housing would mean to a neighborhood with some dilapidated homes already on the margins.
The Mission has received help from the Muncie Redevelopment Commission and the Muncie Land Bank.
“One neighbor was opposed to the Mission and he was mad at us,” Baldwin said. “A few weeks ago he stopped me. He said “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for the neighborhood. It’s starting to look like it did when I was a child.”
The Mission has been giving people a second chance, he said. It’s doing the same for the neighborhood.
“They have created a lot of success,” Mayor Dan Ridenour said of the mission.
It’s recovery program works well for the men involved, he said, and the changes made to the neighborhood have near the mission have strengthened the area and a the city.
“They are having tremendous results,” the mayor said.
The new homes will go on vacant properties where poor housing has been demolished.
Lower numbers, new policies during the pandemic
Scott said the Mission has been weathering the pandemic. Before COVID-19 the shelter would often see 85 to 90 men spending the night. Since, COVID-19, that number now runs around 50 to 60 men.
The mission had to institute stricter polices for people coming into the shelter due to the pandemic. The mission doesn’t require attendance at religious services but doesn’t allow weapons, sexual activity, contraband or alcohol. All drugs are handed out through a dispensary.
At one point during the pandemic in 2020, 11 people had tested positive at the Mission. Some men went to a quarantined hotel for housing but the Mission has been COVID-free in recent months.
In spite of it all, Muncie Mission is continuing to work toward ending homelessness in Muncie, Scott said.
David Penticuff is the local government reporter at the Star Press. Contact him at [email protected].