Have you ever wondered why homeless people are homeless? Do you think there are good organizations providing needed services to help the homeless? In this interview we discuss these questions as well as, How can tiny home communities help the homeless?

Nancy Holland, Executive Director of A Tiny Act of Kindness, Tiny Homes for the Homeless interviews Immanuel Ivey from Edna Martin Christian Center in this video.

“We’ve been serving the community of Indianapolis for almost 80 years now so we have a strong history of helping and serving.”  

-Immanuel Ivey, Edna Martin Christian Center


INTRO:  Hello, I am Nancy Holland, Executive Director of A Tiny Act of Kindness, Tiny Homes for the Homeless. 

Today, you are watching our interview with Immanuel Ivey. 

Hello and welcome Immanuel! Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Immanuel: Yes, my name is Immanuel Ivy, I am the Community Solutions and Entrepreneurship Center’s Director here at the Edna Martin Christian Center. What I do here is help individuals startup, sustain and scale their businesses. Before this role I was the Program Manager of our Career Education and Training Academy in which we assist individuals with job readiness training, financial literacy also helping individuals earn an industry recognized credential either with their construction, logistics or culinary hospitality and also we help individuals with earning their high school diploma and assist them with going to college if they choose to. 

Nancy: That is fantastic, what rewarding work that must be. 

Immanuel:  Yes, it is very rewarding. 

Nancy:  In working with these different programs and types of assistance, I would imagine that you come across the homeless community. Can you tell us about your experience with working with the homeless community?

Immanuel:  I’ve been doing nonprofit social service work for over 17 years now. The individuals that we work here with at Edna Martin I would probably say at least 10-15 percent are actually homeless. It’s not a high population but we see several individuals come in either through actual programming or additional services that we offer. We have a food pantry here Monday-Friday and we assist with utilities assistance and rental assistance. So, those individuals that may have been homeless looking for a permanent place to stay. So, the ones that identify as homeless is about 10-15 percent but we know we service additional homeless people as well.

Nancy:  Where is the Edna Martin facility located? And, what area do you provide services?

Immanuel: We are located in the Martindale Brightwood community. We are right off of 25th and Keystone right next door to the juvenile center in the old school 37. That is our primary location where we have our adult basic education campus. We have our second campus which is our leadership and legacy off of 21st and Ralston where we serve our youth and our seniors. 

Nancy:  So, close to downtown Indianapolis?

Immanuel:  Yes, about 10 minutes away.

Nancy:  We find ourselves right now in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are you seeing this pandemic affecting the community you serve and what are the needs that you are seeing?

Immanuel:  Right now our food pantry has increased its capacity. We will typically serve an individual once every 30 days but during this pandemic we are serving an individual once every week. We are seeing a lot of returning individuals come to get food. One of the issues they do have is that some of them don’t have IDs and I know for a lot of other centers you have to have an ID to get service. We have bent our procedures and processes a little bit. Because we understand that sometimes just having a simple ID is a huge barrier for a lot of individuals especially who are homeless because they don’t have a piece of mail they can provide to the license branch and they probably don’t have their social security card. Just this morning we had a meeting about if an individual doesn’t have their ID are we still going to service them and we decided yes we will. I just know that something as simple as not having an ID can stop someone from receiving resources. 

Nancy:  I think that it is great that you understand the dynamic situation that we are living in and you want to continue to provide for the needs. There is a lot of competition for charitable giving right now and the homeless are often overlooked. There are certain biases that people have about the homeless. I’m curious to know where are you finding your biggest supporters in your initiatives?

Immanuel:  We did receive the CRRF funds through United Way and additional partners in which we are assisting with additional food for the food pantry and also assisting with utilities and rental or mortgage assistance.

We’ve been serving the community of Indianapolis for almost 80 years now so we have a strong history of helping and serving. Even though we are on the near east side our boundaries are open to basically the whole state, we serve individuals throughout Marion County but also the surrounding counties and anybody that needs service throughout the state. 

That is probably one advantage that we have over organizations that haven’t been in existence for years. But also since we don’t have any boundaries we are open to all of marion county so a lot of the donors and funders see that and they know that we serve a broader base other than just Martindale Brightwood. 

Nancy:  I would imagine that you rely a lot on volunteers for a lot of your services. Where are you seeing any impact from the COVID-19 pandemic around your volunteer participation and are you finding ways to keep them protected and safe?

Immanuel:  We have stopped all volunteering and programming and services outside of the food pantry.  A lot of the services and resources that we do provide are virtual. But, actually individuals will come here for the food pantry and we will do the paperwork that we need to do. 

Unfortunately, from a risk management perspective all volunteering has been postponed for now. Currently we are serving with a skeleton staff throughout the week. So, the majority of the staff works remotely. We do have some staff and the leadership team that comes in certain days throughout the week. 

We could use additional help but we want to keep everyone safe. As we open back up we will definitely need that assistance with the volunteers. 

Nancy:  I understand, I know that there are a lot of faith based organizations that have volunteers that typically go out to provide meals to the homeless on a weekly basis and they have stopped their volunteer type of services. Again to protect and follow the Governor’s orders. That does create some concern about those needs that were being met that are now not being met. I think it is great that you are able to keep your food pantry open and I know there are others who are also doing that to help meet those needs.

You and I have had some previous conversations about the tiny home community concept that we are looking to launch. I know you have limited knowledge about that but you and I have discussed how it has been successful in many other states but Indiana doesn’t have a tiny home community yet. What are your thoughts around the benefits and the tiny home community concept being a viable solution? I know that homelessness is a complex issue and there isn’t one right answer but where do you feel that tiny homes could be a possible solution? What are your thoughts about that? 

Immanuel:  I think the idea and the concept is great. It gives the individuals a sense of ownership. It builds a community within a community and now within a community. Because I know the homeless community have their own community with their own laws. So it would be a community within another smaller community. 

Also, what I understand from our conversations, it will provide additional services and resources for these individuals. We won’t just set them in a tiny home and say we are done with you. But, we will look at what organizations can come in to help out with those additional services. That is why I thought this is a great idea because this is what Edna Martin can provide over here with job readiness, with financial literacy, earning an industry recognized credential, or if you want to start a business then we can assist you with that as well. Just looking at giving individual ownership within the community but also know that I have all of these individual resources that I can take advantage of so at the end of the day it will be upon that individual now. Here is a place to stay, here are all of these additional resources, now it’s upon you to make your life for the better. 

Nancy: Collaborating with an organization that, as you said, has been providing services for 80 years to the community making sure that we are spreading those services and providing them to those that could really use that opportunity to better themselves and become a contributing member of the society and the community is the end goal.

Many people have certain biases about homeless individuals and what the homeless community is like. You mentioned how you know that these homeless communities are in camps. You might find one camp that has a “mayor” or self appointed leader in that camp and they keep the type of individuals that they want in that camp. And then maybe a half a mile or a mile down the road will be another camp and it has a different personality and a different leader and a different kind of management way that they run. A lot of people don’t understand that or realize that. There are also a lot of other things that people don’t understand about homelessness. Biases or everyone thinks that they have an addiction or they have a mental illness or that they are an ex convict. Which all of that does exist and I’m not giong to downplay that however, that is not everything that encompases homelssness. In addition to that there are stats that say upwards of 50-60% of the US population probably have some form of mental instability that we all might not even realize or might not be taking care of. What have you seen around biases within the homeless community and what has been your experience? Because I know I had biases myself and when I started volunteering and reaching out and started this organization I realized it is extremely rewarding and I have some great friendships that I have made within the homeless community. I would like to know what you have found? 

Immanuel:  A lot of individuals may think that the homeless are addicts or have some type of substance abuse issue. A lot of people may think that they don’t want anything in life as well. But, one thing that I realized in working with this population is that the stories kind of are endless how they got to the position they are right now. Some individuals lost everything, their job, their house, their family. Some individuals may have been abused all of their life and the streets are the only “safe” place to be. It definitely is not one story or one issue is a blanket for all. There are a variety of different issues and barriers and tragedies that have happened with these individuals. 

One thing that surprised me, and I’m not going to lie about this is some people don’t want housing.  We have that assumption that, hey let’s house everybody and put them in shelters and some people just don’t want it. That truly surprised me but even if they don’t want housing they still want these other resources and services as well. 

We do judge these individuals and think of them in a negative way but when you sit down and talk and listen to their stories there’s no way you can’t show any sympathy and empathy toward them. 

How they choose to live their life that is still on them but just because somebody doesn’t want a mansion doesn’t mean they are less than. They have learned how to be content, they have learned how to survive and how to see opportunity within their crisis. My only thing is if you want to be helped or if you want to be served then I’m willing to do that. What I don’t want to do is force my assumptions or what I think they should do upon them. Because a lot of times we do that. A lot of times we say, get off the street, stop begging stop doing this, stop doing that. The reality is if you put someone in a house and they don’t have any sense of financial literacy, they don’t know how to budget, they don’t know how to manage their money then you are putting them in a house and expect them to pay their rent the next month is probably hindering them than helping them. We have to look at what are ways we can help them where they are right now rather than where we want them to be 5 years from now. Just losing our ego and our pride to serve them and looking at what are your needs rather than what I think we should do for them.

Nancy: I love some of the points you made that we can learn from the homeless population. How to be content with what you have, how to make opportunities out of the things that you have and how to ask for help and rely on others are all great lessons that we can learn. 

You and I have talked about in the past are some of the resources that you provide at Edna Martin. You mentioned how we need to equip the homeless. However, as you said there are some homeless people who don’t want a house, they are very content, they are happy where they are. I have met a few individuals during my volunteering who are in that situation. I’ve also met some individuals who have said that but have found that the streets aren’t safe and there are a lot of individuals who will prey on their vulnerability. They have realized that maybe I just don’t want a traditional home but I want something that is more stable and safe and secure but just not a traditional home. This is where I think a tiny home community could meet this type of individual’s needs and provide some security and safety. In addition, you mentioned that some of our current programs are not necessarily set up to provide a successful transition off of the streets where you might take someone who has been homeless for 10, 15 or 20 years and put them into an apartment and then they are isolated. They are cut off from their community and they don’t know how to ask for help or get help. They don’t know how to manage their finances, they don’t know how to take care of their trash. They have been living for 15 or 20 years in a camp and they have just thrown their trash on the ground. A tiny home community can provide that transition time of helping them to understand what you need to do to live in a community and how you are going to be most successful in a community type of situation. I know at Edna martin you have some of those types of programs and services that you provide and even beyond that you have other types of services once they transition out of the tiny homes into a more permanent type of housing. Can you explain a little more about those services?

Immanuel: We have different pots of funds for either different populations or ages. Recently we had The Housing Trust Fund in which we partnered with United Way and I think these funds came from the city or the city counsel. We helped individuals who had some sort of a criminal history either having just been released from prison or jail or overcoming a criminal past. We helped them identify what apartment complexes were able to allow them to rent. We were involved with this program for about two years but it just ended. We do have other funds either from FEMMA or the SERF funds from UnitedWay that can help with housing. But, even before we help you with housing we want to help you with understanding the basics of financial literacy. How to manage your money, how to set a budget, how to pay bills on time. They have to go through a course online and in person and do some financial coaching with our financial coach. So, it’s not here’s your first months rent paid or here’s your deposit paid and that’s it, no we want you to be successful within this journey. So, even before we refer you to an apartment complex you have to do our financial literacy but you also have to do our job readiness training. The goal is for you to be placed as well. Because once again, we can pay for your first month rent and deposit but what is going to happen afterwards? What we don’t want to do is just put a bandaid on these situations on these barriers. We want to help you so we can heal that wound. We don’t want to just throw some money at you, yes we are going to give you some money initially but also we are going to help you with these additional services and resources. So you can have a sound mind on how to work your finances, do i get paid and spend it all or do i save, do i put some money towards my bills. Really teaching them some financial strategies that they may have not known at all or they may have known but they just kind of fell on hard times. 

One great thing about the staff we have here is they also have these real life situations that have happened to them. Especially for me, before I was the Director or Program Manager about 5 years ago I was a financial coach as well. There were times I was laid off and I didn’t have my main income coming in, I had a side gig but it still was not paying all my bills. Me having that financial knowledge and saving for a rainy day that helped me out so I can personally tell my testimony to these individuals. 

Yes, we will help you with housing or employment but there is still this financial information that you truly need but it’s not just hearing it and understanding but it’s also actually about applying what you learn and that is why we have our financial coaches to keep track and follow up with the individuals, hey, are you on track with paying your next months rent? if they are on track with that what are other things now that we can do to help you out as far as saving, or finding additional employment and/or possibly starting a business as well.

The ultimate goal for us is to not have them in just one mindset, yes it’s good to have a job but there is more out there for you. Do you want to go to school? Do you want to start a business?  Do you want to earn a trade? Looking at all that we have to offer you but at the same time leading you from where you are right now.

We have the resources but it’s more than just having the resources, it’s gaining the knowledge but also the understanding of if I utilize these resources what’s next? Because we can’t save and help everyone. Our resources do run out as well so we don’t want the individuals just to depend on us every week or every month. We will take those first two or three steps with you but it is up to you to live your life to set your goals to realize your goals and then we are just here for that backbone and support. 

Nancy: I hear a lot of different charitable organizations say it’s a hand up not a hand out and I think that is what you are talking about. We are all focused on creating individuals who are well balanced who have the knowledge and education to be able to live productive lives and contribute back to society. I know you have a lot of success stories that you have helped who are now volunteering and many different organizations that are providing the charity around the city also have similar types of success stories. That’s what we are all in it for and I think that’s great that you are providing those services and you are seeing those success stories.

What else would you like to add? Anything else that I’ve missed that you would like to share about this population and the services?

Immanuel: Edna Martin Christian Center is here to serve. We don’t have an infinite amount of resources but the ones we do have are for the community. But we do want the community to lift themselves up as well. And how do you lift yourself up? By being financially smart and accountable. By earning a good honest wage. By doing business correctly. By helping your neighbor out as well. We try to demonstrate through our staff, through our programming, through our training as well. It’s not all about us, we can not do it all, so that is why we do collaborate and partner with other organizations who are the experts. We are willing to give our talents and resources to any and everyone. Even though we are in Martindale Brightwood we are open to everyone. Anybody who has challenges of employment or housing or earning a certification or getting your high school diploma we can help and assist with that. But, we can only do so much, it’s still upon that individual to take the lead and really want to reach their goals.

One thing that I say in our training and at our orientations is that I’m going to live my life but I expect you to live yours as well. So, don’t be dependent on any and everybody but start to be dependent on yourself because if the class starts at 9:00 in the morning it’s upon you to wake up, get dressed or do whatever to come to class. We are not going to call you and beg you to come. This is your life, these are your goals, this is what you want to accomplish, yes, we are here to assist you, yes we are here to provide that foundation but it’s up to you to build upon that. We hold everybody accountable but we also tell them to hold us accountable as well for everyone we say we are going to do for you.

Nancy: Thank you for everything that you do and for your service. 

Immanuel: Thank you and thank you for having me on.

Resources from Edna Martin Christian Center can be found here: