For Glen Ellis, it's a felony drug conviction and subsequent release from prison.
In Janice Mosley's case, it's seeking out a new start after fleeing what she deemed an abusive marriage.
The varied stories of Ellis and Mosley — and the reasons behind why hundreds of others in the region are living without homes — were all part of an official 24-hour government count Wednesday.
The point-in-time count is ordered every year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an effort to apportion housing grants and other resources to the homeless.
In Lake County, about 20 volunteers descended on Gary, Hammond and East Chicago under the supervision of William Gillespie and Felisha Brown, both officials of the Continuum of Care Network of Northwest Indiana. In addition to counting homeless people, volunteers also collected demographic and personal information folks were willing to share, including mental health status, whether they had been victims of domestic violence and veteran status.
Some of the area's homeless were easier to find than others.
Mosley, 30, said she has been living at the Missionaries of Charity shelter for women and children in Gary since Monday after fleeing domestic abuse. Missionaries of Charity workers already enter the HUD survey information into a shared computer system when women enter the shelter.
But Ellis, 56, has been living on and off since 2009 in the Bakery House, a Gary faith-based shelter for men that doesn't participate in the centralized computer system. Ellis said it has been a challenge finding work since his release from the Westville prison about six years ago following a felony drug-related conviction.
The shelter offers him a roof, structure through daily chores and a place to stay while looking for work. So far, seasonal part-time painting work has been his main source of income, he said.
Gillespie and Brown counted and interviewed more than a dozen men at the Bakery House on Wednesday; reasons for being homeless ranged from criminal convictions to mental illness, another common characteristic of region homelessness.
The count also was ongoing Wednesday in Porter County and throughout Indiana.
In Porter County, Elizabeth Allen, the Ten Year Plan coordinator for Porter County Coalition for Affordable Housing, said agencies such as Housing Opportunities, local food pantries, township trustees, Gabriel’s Horn and even the public libraries took a count of homeless people as they came in for services.
Allen said the participating agencies will submit their totals this week, but the total won’t be tallied until next week.
Performing the count helps determine a region's social service needs for federal funding, Gillespie said.
But the count also helps his agency link homeless people with services available in real time, Gillespie said.
Volunteers in Lake County were preparing Wednesday afternoon to continue the search and count of the region's homeless into the night, including checks of more hidden places on the streets and in abandoned buildings in the urban core.
"If we find people without shelter, we will do all we can to get them services as part of this process," Gillespie said, noting the Continuum sponsors a Rapid Rehousing Program. The program's eventual goal is getting homeless people to shelters and then to residences.
Gillespie said the Lake County homeless counts will be available in June when a final state report is published.
Last year, volunteers surveyed 294 homeless people in Hammond, Gary and East Chicago, he said.