Annual count gives snapshot of homelessness in region, country

2013-01-30T22:00:00Z 2013-01-31T23:53:05Z Annual count gives snapshot of homelessness in region, countryLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

GARY | Ed Tonaszewski was thrilled to move into a little house in Gary's Black Oak neighborhood with the mother of his two children and her child.

"It was a block away from the school so we thought it would be perfect," the 34-year-old Chicago native said.

The couple separated and he lost the medical insurance needed to provide treatment for his mental and physical disabilities.

"I bounced around from friends to family and wound up here," he said Wednesday at the Brother's Keeper men's shelter in Gary.

Tonaszewski was one of the homeless being counted Wednesday as part of the annual Point-In-Time effort.

William Gillespie, program director for Continuum Care Network of Northwest Indiana, said the Point-In-Time Count takes place across the country on the same day.

Teams of volunteers and staff members from homeless service agencies conducted the counts Wednesday in Hammond, East Chicago and portions of Porter, LaPorte and Jasper counties in partnership with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

"The idea is to get an accurate number of people in the region who are homeless," Gillespie said. "Through that, we are able to shift resources, ask for funding and say we need help."

Lt. Paul Lawson, 43, is a U.S. Navy veteran staying at the Veteran's Life Changing Services shelter in Gary. He found himself homeless after two fires in Gary.

"I lost 27 of my best friends in combat, and I feel like nobody cares," Lawson said choking back tears. "You get the bare minimum and nobody cares about you. They give the guy who works at Ford more credit."

Eric Larson, 50, a homeless U.S. Army veteran living at the same shelter, agrees.

"We're like toilet paper," Larson said. "We're needed, we're important, but as soon as we're out of uniform, it's time to flush us down the toilet because we aren't any good."

Larson found himself homeless after leaving a job in Florida at age 45.

"I was too old, and when I put down I was a vet, it counted against me," he said. "I wasn't asking for gimmes and freebies. I was trying to get a job."

Brother's Keeper men's shelter in Gary serves a host of men on probation. Kevin Sadler, 23, has been there a month and a half. He said he is on probation after "getting into trouble" when he was 19.

"I think the hardest part is trying to cope with everything, get my life back on track," Sadler said. "It's hard because I don't have any money, transportation. It's always a struggle."

Sadler, who is working toward getting his GED, is hopeful for the future.

"You shouldn't be ashamed you're homeless," he said. "It's not your fault. It's not a downfall, just a pit stop. If you need the help, you should try to get it."

Sharron Liggins, executive director of Continuum Care Network of Northwest Indiana, stressed the count is just a snapshot of the issues with homelessness in the region. 

"This is just one day, but we do this 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Liggins said. "These are real living, breathing people who want to do their best. They don't want to be homeless."

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