Typically, the homeless come to Deb Bedwell looking for help. But twice a year, she goes out looking for them.
As director of Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Food Pantry in Seymour, Bedwell takes part in the state’s annual count of homeless people in January.
But because many of the homeless are able to find shelter during the winter, the numbers can be low and misleading, Bedwell said.
That’s why she conducts a summer count, too, which was started by Human Services Inc. a few years ago.
Last Thursday night, Bedwell and Anchor House social services administrator Tracy Day-Vaughn spent four hours riding along with local law enforcement trying to identify and help anyone living on the streets.
In total, they documented 11 homeless people — 10 in Seymour and one out in the county — Bedwell said.
Although it doesn’t seem like a lot, Bedwell said it only reflects those people they could find. She knows there are others.
Many people think because they don’t see people sleeping on park benches or living in cardboard boxes on the sidewalks and in alleys that homelessness isn’t an issue in Seymour, but that’s not the case, Bedwell said.
Homeless is defined as having no place to call home or living in a place not meant for habitation.
“Everyone’s situation was different,” she said.
Several folks were living in their cars, and others are able to receive help in getting a hotel room for a night or two, she said.
“My heart was the most hurt to find someone sleeping in a doorway,” she said. “If the officer I was with had not seen this person, I would have driven by unaware.”
Bedwell was able to meet with several homeless individuals and families who were eating at The Alley Kitchen in Seymour, which serves free hot meals to the hungry daily.
“I learned that the homeless don’t always wear a sign and stand on the street corner asking for help,” Bedwell said. “Not everyone fishing at night or camping in someone’s yard are doing so for their love of the sport. Not everyone in a parked car has the intention of going into that business. They may be living in it.”
She said the most common places for the homeless are near the White River, living under overpasses, in parking lots, doorways of downtown businesses or abandoned homes and walking on the highway.
The homeless count is important in giving officials a measure of the problem of homelessness locally and possibly could result in more funding to assist those in need, Bedwell said.
A large homeless population could support the need for more services including a drop-in emergency shelter, she added.
Anchor House currently provides shelter services to families with children and can only house seven families at a time. There is always a waiting list, and families are limited to how long they can stay in an effort to get them working toward self-sufficiency, Bedwell said.
A more immediate impact of the counts is from the care kits Bedwell and Day-Vaughn handed out to those with whom they came in contact. Each kit included snack items, personal hygiene products and a blanket.
“I don’t think I talked to one person that wasn’t grateful and excited with the bag of goodies and blanket we had for them,” Bedwell said. “They walked away feeling better after we communicated. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of having someone listen to you, congratulate you on your progress and encourage you to not give up.”
At the end of the count, Bedwell said she has a new perspective on life and how we live it.
“Everyone deserves a place to call home, and it’s so easy to take that for granted,” she said.
Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry donation
Anchor House and Human Services Inc. each have received a donation of 500 pounds of frozen meat from Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry to help stock their food pantries.
Both pantries are located in Seymour.
Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry is an organization supported by local hunters and farmers that donates venison, beef and pork to local food banks.
Bedwell said she drove to Hanover on Saturday to pick up the 1,000 pounds of frozen ground pork, which will help 500 local families eat.
“They are thrilled to have a choice of meat and other products when they come to the pantry,” she said of clients.
Donations to Anchor House can be made from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; or from 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
The shelter and food pantry are located at 250 S. Vine St. in Seymour.