By Stephanie Dolan
When many of us picture someone who is homeless, we may visualize a person who could be dangerous, has an addiction, refuses employment, roams around the streets in a large city begging for money and chooses to remain in their situation.
Yet, homelessness is a very real issue in Johnson County; a lot of people don’t know about it because they don’t see it, according to Katie Sparks, executive director for KIC-IT (Kids in Crises – Intervention Team). KIC-IT, a nonprofit organization started in 2011 in response to the growing needs for homeless youth services.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
“We don’t see people sleeping under bridges and on streets,” she said. “Homelessness occurs in Johnson County at a higher rate that we believe is possible. It’s hard to break that cycle. KIC-IT is trying to help break those cycles. The biggest struggle is that people in Johnson County don’t think that homelessness is a problem and it is. I didn’t realize the problem that homelessness was in Johnson County until I came on board as a staff member.”
KIC-IT collaborates with other organizations to support youth ages 16-25 to break the cycle of homelessness by helping each client achieve sustainable life change.
Sparks, 38, of Franklin joined the KIC-IT team in March, just as COVID-19 was beginning to change the way we all lived and worked on a daily basis.
A NEED FOR SERVICES
“It’s been a bit of a wild ride,” she said. “KIC-IT was considered essential, so we never closed but really had to change our functioning dynamics. The unfortunate part has been a significant decrease of ability to fundraise, and donations down. But the need for services has gone the other direction.”
Sparks explained how KIC-IT is helping Johnson County youth who are homeless. “We try to help change that situation by finding them a safe place to sleep, finding them jobs, linking them to mental health resources and linking them to positive supports in the community. Sometimes we also work with kids coming out of juvenile detention and work release and help them get into more safe and stable situations.”
KIC-IT also works with foster kids who age out of the system and find themselves without a place to go.
“We currently have about 23 clients on our case load,” she said. That case load is managed by three case managers.
“Two of our case managers have been personally impacted by being homeless and were able to change their circumstances,” Sparks said. “Another case manager has a sister who battles with addiction and bounces back and forth between a motel and the street.”
“Some of the risk factors for youth who become at risk for homelessness include intergenerational poverty, unstable family life, substance abuse and addiction, dropping out of school and mental health issues,” Terry Keusch, a KIC-IT board member for the past four years, said.
“Unfortunately, not all kids get to grow up a stable family environment and experience terrible conditions that no kid should have to go through, such as bouncing from house to house or sofa to sofa, sleeping in a car, living with parents who are dealing with addictions and the list goes on and on,” Keusch, a Center Grove resident, said.
CHANGES ARE HAPPENING
Yet, Keusch has seen big changes happen. “I have witnessed youth coming into KIC-IT’s drop-in center hungry, emotionally exhausted, scared and uncertain of where they would be sleeping that night,” he said. “To see how appreciative they are to get a hot meal, some groceries, some hygiene items, sometimes a sleeping bag or a night in a hotel room, and, most importantly, guidance and support from people who care about them, is really a great thing to witness.
“If we can reach at-risk youth early on and guide them and support them and give them access to services that specifically address whatever issues they are dealing with, we can get them on a path to stable housing and self-sufficiency, rather than continuing down a troubled road,” he said. “This would greatly alleviate the burdens on the criminal justice system and the health care system, thereby providing a tremendous community health benefit.”
For more information, visit KIC-IT.org.
NIGHT OF HOPE FUNDRAISING DINNER AND GALA
KIC-IT is hosting “Night of Hope,” a fundraiser this Saturday, Sept. 19, 6:30-10 p.m. at the Barn at Bay Horse Inn. Guests will hear real-life stories of transformation. There will also be a silent auction and raffle. Most of the donations will go toward helping clients with housing needs. Donations are essential at this time during COVID-19. Donations are also accepted through kic-it.org. The nonprofit also accepts hygiene items and gift cards to restaurants. Donations may also be dropped off or mailed to the KIC-IT office at 592 Ironwood Drive, Franklin. For questions about donating through Venmo or Paypal, call (317) 428-2078. For more information about Night of Hope, go to kic-it.org/upcoming-events.