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Lafayette re-examining homeless issue

Goal to create 1 center to deal with all services

– The first time Criselda Marquez used food stamps at a local supermarket, she barely made it to her car before she started crying.

It was 2009, and Marquez, a former Purdue University academic adviser, was newly homeless and battling crippling depression.

“Here I was with a master’s degree, I had worked at a Big Ten research institution and I was on food stamps, helpless,” Marquez said.

But this year, for the first time since then, she’s off food stamps and housing assistance and is completely independent, thanks to the support of local homeless service agencies.

“I needed to be homeless to focus on my depression,” Marquez said. “For me it was a blessing, and I used that time to work on me. And now I’m in the best place I’ve ever been mentally.”

Marquez said she’s hoping to share that feeling with others who are homeless joining the discussion aimed at restructuring Lafayette homeless support services.

Jennifer Layton, executive director of Lafayette Transitional Housing Center, shared new details about that effort this week with members of the Homeless Prevention and Intervention Network – a coalition of social service and community agencies that meets monthly.

Since May, social service agencies have discussed reinvigorating the effort to end homelessness through the 2012 Solutions Beyond Shelter report. That 44-page plan, crafted by an outside consultant, spelled out how Greater Lafayette can eliminate homelessness.

But parties involved agree that plan lost steam, and they’re hoping an $80,000 grant awarded to the United Way of Greater Lafayette this year will revive the effort.

Their goal now is to create a 24/7 engagement center that would house all homeless services – such as case management and housing assistance – under one roof.

The group will spend the summer visiting communities with homeless systems in place, including Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids in Michigan and Columbus and Cincinnati in Ohio.

From September to December, the group will organize community forums for social service agencies, homeless clients and others to solicit feedback on what Lafayette’s center should be.