Charles Jansen received a text message Monday from a former student, a meth addict recently released from jail who missed her child’s kindergarten graduation.
She needs help, the woman admitted. There will be a middle school graduation, high school and college commencements – her child’s lifetime milestones. Celebrations she refuses to watch on video.
“Will you please keep us in your prayers?” she pleaded in the message.
In response, Jansen, the chairman of Kokomo’s Board of Zoning Appeals, directed the woman to Turning Point, Howard County’s recently implemented Systems of Care program meant to assist those suffering from drug addiction and mental health illness.
But it’s a different project, one that could help families ravaged by drug abuse and homelessness, which Jansen voted to jumpstart Tuesday night.
The Kokomo City BZA voted unanimously this week on two measures that could bring a 35-unit housing development to Kokomo for homeless families that have faced a struggle with substance abuse.
One measure, a special exception for the housing development itself, gave the OK for a “multi-family dwelling” at 711 N. Purdum St; the second case was a variance that allows 45 parking spaces split between on-site and street parking.
The project, headed by Advantix Development Corp., is planned as a three-story complex offered to families in need of affordable housing and substance abuse treatment.
Both Four County Counseling Center, which offers mental health and addiction services, and Kokomo Housing Authority are considered partners in the project; case management and wraparound and support services will be available to people living in the currently unnamed development.
“This will be the first and only housing of its type not only in this community, but in this county,” remarked Advantix Chief Operating Officer Tim Martin, who said the project will include roughly 10,000 square feet of living space per floor.
As low-income, tax credit housing units, the rent will be “based on 30 percent of [residents’] adjusted gross income, based on the bedroom size and the fair-market rents,” he explained.
Advantix’s homeless housing project will next appear before the Kokomo City Plan Commission. The company then has a July deadline to apply for tax credits from the state.
Without any roadblocks, Advantix will find out in November whether its application is successful. If tax credits are received, construction on the project will start in spring 2019, according to Martin.
“Our goal is to … provide services, work with our families and hopefully move them out to stable, productive lives,” said Martin.
Advantix recently received tax credits for a separate development project in Kokomo. That project will mostly utilize properties at 601 E. Ricketts St. and 1124 S. Union St., near the Industrial Heritage Trail, placing 22 lease-to-purchase townhome units around the Ricketts Street location and 23 on South Union Street.
Named Trail Side Towne Homes, the development will likely open to residents in early 2020, said Martin in a previous interview.
But it’s the possibility for a homeless housing complex – one that would also provide onsite case management, referrals and wraparound services – that could have a crucial impact on the area’s most vulnerable residents, say local officials.
Kokomo Housing Authority CEO Debra Cook explained that families living in Howard, Miami, Tipton, Cass and Wabash counties – comprising the state’s Region 5 Planning Council on Homelessness – are eligible to become residents in the future facility.
“As a housing authority, we have families that we can’t serve because of strict federal rules, and there’s a long wait list,” said Cook. “And this would serve homeless families in our region without a wait list based on a need based on an assessment by an organization here that’s qualified to do that.”
Residents, she explained, would arrive through a coordinated entry system, which means a local entity — the Kokomo Rescue Mission and Coordinated Assistance Ministries are two examples — would have assessed a person or family and put them “at a high need to get them in here immediately.”
“We see a lot of children impacted because of their parents’ behaviors and we wanted an option rather than them being on the streets,” said Cook. “So we felt strongly that this was an important project.”
Howard County had 444 public school students identified as homeless in 2016, the seventh-highest total of Indiana’s 92 counties, according to the Indiana Youth Institute’s most recent Kids Count data book.
And one in 10 children throughout Indiana are reported to have lived with someone who had a problem with drugs or alcohol.
“It will be folks where the head of household and/or co-head of household suffer with substance abuse use disorder, and we don’t (currently) have any sort of family-oriented treatment to keep those families together,” continued Cook.
“This is to serve and help offer services that wrap around the entire family.”
Also in support of the project, said Kokomo Deputy Mayor David Tharp, is Howard County’s high-profile Systems of Care program, Turning Point. Tharp is an executive board member for the local SOC.
Turning Point opened April 30 to what one official described as phones ringing “off the hook.” In general, the SOC is a collaborative effort among numerous fields – medical, mental health, faith-based and more – to fight the drug epidemic and its many causes and effects.
“This fits in line with how we are going to combat our portion of the heroin and opioid epidemic in our community, and (it is) a great way to keep families together as they seek support,” said Tharp.
In addition, he noted, the project will be “at the cornerstone of a redevelopment project for the entire neighborhood.” The city specifically plans to incorporate its nascent urban infill project in the area surrounding the housing development.
The infill project, said Tharp, will bring “new single-family, market-rate homes” to the neighborhood.
City officials announced a program in August 2017 that will include the construction of such homes on vacant and underutilized lots in Kokomo neighborhoods, including the one surrounding the North Purdum Street development.
Notably, the homes will be sold on the open market, and funds collected from home sales will go back into the city program to finance the construction of additional homes.
“The neighborhood does need a shot in the arm; it needs some love,” added Tharp.
In conjunction, BZA Executive Director Greg Sheline said the development itself “will infill what is almost an entire block of currently vacant lots” in a high-density residential area and “improve the character of the neighborhood and the property values of the lots within it.”