Some area homeless choose to live on the streets

2013-11-28T00:00:00Z 2013-11-28T23:06:07Z Some area homeless choose to live on the streetsDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com. (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

Chris Castillo headed up a Highland household of seven younger siblings after losing both parents three years ago.

Three weeks ago, the 29-year-old joined the ranks of the homeless after losing his job, his apartment and his car. 

With no place else to go and no options left, Castillo moved into the Brother's Keeper shelter in Gary, a place he's thankful to be this Thanksgiving.

"If I didn't have the shelter, I would be one of the people I see out on the street every day. ... I feel blessed to be here," Castillo said.

Local police and shelter administrators say the "unsheltered" homeless are among us, living in woods, abandoned houses or cars.

"They aren't causing any problems. These people are just trying to survive," Hobart police Cmdr. Jeremy Ogden said.

Ogden believes the yet-to-be identified remains found in late September in a wooded area north of Toys R Us off U.S. 30 in Hobart may have been a homeless man or someone sleeping there at least overnight.

"There were items, including medication, at the site that indicated someone was staying there. ... We don't have a homeless problem like a lot of communities, the few we do have are usually just passing through," Ogden said.

Porter County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Larry LaFlower said he has seen homeless people living in the woods, in tents, wrapped up in sleeping bags under overpasses or train stations.

Some homeless prefer to keep a low profile and not be taken to a shelter, even during bitterly cold winter days, authorities said.

"I bet there are a lot more out there than what we deal with and see and get calls on," LaFlower said.

Homeless people, particularly during the cold winter months, are referred to local shelters and churches in Porter County.

It's the policy of local police, after spotting homeless individuals living outdoors, to always offer them a ride to the closest shelter, Ogden said.

Not all want to go, especially during warmer weather months.

Ogden said he recalls a homeless man sleeping near the former Sony Theater off U.S. 30 and using outdoor heating vents to stay warm.

"I asked him why he hadn't moved on yet and he said he wanted to stay. Once it got colder he moved on," Ogden said.

Some homeless people will end up going to prison after committing crimes such as shoplifting or disorderly conduct, Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said.

"When it starts getting colder we get an influx of the homeless in jail. They're out on the street causing a nuisance and then they are brought to the facility. We try and do everything we can to place them in a shelter like Brother's Keeper," Buncich said.

Statistics show a percentage, at least 8 to 10 percent of the homeless, are veterans. Many of  those veterans also have mental heath issues.

"We ask the inmates to fill out a form and a lot are veterans. ... They've hit rock bottom and are living on the streets," Buncich said.

His officers find homeless individuals staying in parks, pavilions, bus stations and even libraries to keep out of the cold.

"They are out there," Buncich said.

Mary Edwards, executive director at Brother's Keeper, said the Gary shelter on Broadway has been offering emergency and transitional services since March 1986.

The shelter currently houses 22 with a capacity of 24.

"As the temperatures get colder the numbers tend to stay up. We don't turn anyone away," Edwards said.

Those who seek to live in the shelter come from all over the area and even other states.

"They're pleased to find this place," Edwards said.

Edwards is well aware that not all homeless individuals want to use the services the shelter offers.

"I know there are the homeless who seek shelter in abandoned buildings, under viaducts, and even bus and police stations. Some even pretend to have medical problems and go to the ER," Edwards said.

Some individuals also refuse to obey the rules of the shelter, including abiding by the 9:45 p.m. curfew.

"The ultimate goal is for our clients to become self-sufficient, and if homeless, they need to get out of their predicament," Edwards said.

Leaving the shelter, getting a job and back on his feet is the goal of Castillo, who hopes to get a job in the field he trained for as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

"I'm here now, and the only thing I can do is move forward," Castillo said. "Everyone is here for a certain reason. I could be out on the street."

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