Indianapolis union local steps up to aid the homeless
Union members in Indianapolis distribute aid to the homeless | Jake Watkins/PW

INDIANAPOLIS, In. – On “Community Day,” Sept. 25 at the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Local 372A offices, clothing, and shoes were given away, donations accepted to purchase hygiene products, and food was cooked and distributed to those who needed it. “I believe that everyone will, at some point in their life, require help. Today was about providing some,” said Richie Griffin, President of Local 372A and founder of Gods Riches Treasures (GRT), co-sponsors of the event. GRT, a mutual-aid organization, helps Indianapolis’ unhoused communities.

Griffin told People’s World that one of the goals was to strengthen the union and community relationship. “We hope the community sees that unions are here and unions and our members can help all the people in the community. We can make a positive difference.”

Workers at Local 372A have seen a struggling unhoused community facing additional challenges since the beginning of the pandemic. “Many of the unhoused were left in a state of uncertainty,” Griffin noted. “The unhoused that would get the change from the people coming off the highways, for example, can no longer do so because there was little to no traffic.”

Homelessness in Indianapolis is on the rise. Despite a city goal to end homelessness by 2023, in 2021 there were 1,928 individuals counted in the Marion County Point-in time(PIT) count, the highest number in the past 10 years. The PIT count reports the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, and it was conducted on a cold night in January.

In 2022, the number of people experiencing homelessness went down. The annual PIT count showed a 9% decrease in homelessness, but it means 1,761 people remain unhoused in Indianapolis on any given night.

“We’re happy to see that it’s trending back down after one of the highest point in time counts we’ve had in recent history in 2021 during COVID,” Haring-Cozzi told WRTV Indianapolis. Haring-Cozzi is the executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP). While a decrease in PIT count was reported, simultaneously there was a 27% increase in homelessness for families with young children. In addition, nearly 200 more people, or 9% more, are still unhoused than in 2020, before the start of the pandemic.

“Homelessness among families is rising and will continue to rise if left unmitigated,” Jason Jones, a social worker whose clients include the formerly incarcerated, told People’s World. Jones blamed the worsening of family homelessness on the combined effect of rising housing costs, stagnant wages, and the loss of the expanded Child Tax Credit that many relied on after the passing of the American Rescue Plans Act.

Although homelessness among youth and families is on the rise, the Indianapolis City-County Council is moving in the direction of criminalizing rather than battling homelessness. It has responded with Proposal 256, aiming to criminalize the distribution of aid in many locations.

The City-County Council claims this legislation is about safety, but Griffin believes it aligns with business wants rather than with providing safe spaces for distribution. “So while I do understand that businesses do not want the unhoused to be camped out in front of their business because of their clientele, no child dreams of living on the street.” Rather than investing in policing mutual-aid distribution, Richie asks, “why can’t we build something for these individuals to help them to get off the streets?”

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, the leading causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing, lack of adequate income, impact of racial disparities, and health problems. “Health problems can cause a person’s homelessness. Furthermore, health problems, such as addiction, can compound by increasing the numbers of the unhoused,” said Griffin who added that there should be investment in clinics and treatment.

Eric Brooks, Chair of Communist Party of Indiana, CPUSA, said, “Solutions to homelessness lie in strengthening democracy across Indiana… People must not be criminalized for not having money. Together, we can struggle to build communities that put people before profits, including meeting the housing, education, food, water, health, and safety needs of unhoused people.”

Brooks added that the health needs of women, “including pregnancy and abortion services,” and of the LGBTQ community, including trans people, must be met.”

Griffin agreed, adding that the methods used to fight for worker’s rights are what we should use to fight for the unhoused. “Labor unions were built upon helping the working-class to have equal rights, and equal pay…. If organized labor, mutual-aids, churches, and other members of our community will unite in their call, then people will be forced to listen.”

Those interested in joining the struggle against Prop 256, and in the fight for the rights of the unhoused, can contact: info@indianacpusa.org.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jake Watkins
Jake Watkins

Jacob Watkins is vice president of BCTGM local 372A in Indiana and an activist with the Young Communist League and CPUSA in the state.

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