Editor’s Note: Grace College professor of English and Journalism Dr. Paulette Sauders’ senior journalism majors wrote investigative pieces for their senior papers that are meant to be published as a series over a week’s time in a newspaper or magazine. Student Carolina Keegan wrote about homelessness in Kosciusko County. This is the first in her five-part series.

Tricia Jackson has been homeless for six years. She became homeless after being in prison. “Substance abuse controls you a lot, and I do believe my substance abuse problem is what got me on the streets,” she said. She relapsed on meth and marijuana but has been clean of opioids and benzos since Oct. 16, 2016.

“After I got out I didn’t even know what to do,” Jackson said. “I had blisters on the bottoms of my feet that were the size of golf balls because I walked around trying to figure out how to not relapse,” she said. “I really didn’t want to fall back into substance abuse.”

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go – I didn’t know anybody sober, so I had no choice but to contact one of my friends that used, and I knew instantly when I called her that I would relapse,” Jackson said. “It took me off the streets for a second, but not in the right way,” she said.

“I had no idea how to make decisions on my own,” she said, but then a friend told her about Fellowship Missions and their substance abuse program. “I never thought in a million years that there would be a place like this.”

“They’re very supportive of us, and they’re very connected with us,” Jackson said. “We are close. We help each other. We’re just connected in a good way. All of us go through things, but we all support each other, too.”

“In other towns, homelessness is judged; we’re looked down upon, because – I, I don’t know why, to be honest with you. But when it comes to Warsaw, I have not had anybody look down on me,” Jackson said.

There were many people who did not want a homeless shelter in the area when Fellowship Missions was first founded in 2010, according to Brooke Lane, the shelter director.

“It was almost an ‘if you build it they will come’ mentality. Not everybody, but there were some people that did not want it. What they didn’t know was that they were already here, so they just needed a safe place to go,” she said.

“We do have people who come out of even the state. Our furthest one was from California. There are a lot of people who hear about us,” she said. Even so, 80-85% of Fellowship Missions’ residents are from Kosciusko County according to Brooke and Eric Lane.

After the initial resistance from the community, “That has laid off a lot and our community has really come together, and they’ve seen the need now that we’re here and they’re visibly seeing how many there are that need help, so our community has been a big part of why we’re still here today,” Brooke Lane said.

“I know there are a lot of homeless people and there aren’t very many places for them to go,” said Lisa Johnston, 63, from Warsaw.

“Being up in North Webster, we don’t see much of it till we come down here,” Robert “Bob” Burress said, as he described homelessness in Kosciusko County. He and his wife have been living in North Webster for two years.

“I’ve never really seen many homeless people around here. I would assume there’s not that many, especially compared to bigger cities,” Dylan Black of Warsaw said.

Johnston rested her chin on her fist and leaned forward as she described homeless people. “I guess it’s really hard to tell because some people look homeless and some people don't.” Johnston worked in retail and would encounter many people who were homeless and didn’t look like it.

Homeless people are “not, I’m afraid, well off for whatever circumstances,” Burress said. He described how he imagined a homeless individual would appear as possibly unclean and pushing a shopping cart, although this is not necessarily the standard, he noted.

“We need more shelters,” Johnston said. She called the police to help shelter someone who was out in the cold and needed shelter about four years ago.

“Just the Mission is taking responsibility for homeless people in Kosciusko County, but obviously they don’t have enough room for all the people or maybe the rules are a little more strict there,” said Johnston. She knows this because she had experience trying to get someone off the street in the winter time. “They shouldn't have to sleep in doorways and in dumpsters to stay warm.”

“Sometimes people are a little afraid of homeless people,” Burress said. “I don’t mind helping them to the point where, if I give them money, I’m not sure if they would use it wisely.” He preferred to give granola bars and other trail snacks that he carried with him before moving to Kosciusko County.

Barb, whose real name cannot be disclosed for safety and privacy reasons, is currently living at the Beaman Home and is looking to apply for HUD. The Beaman Home is a shelter specifically for those who have experienced domestic violence and lack the resources or the support needed to stay somewhere else, Executive Director Jennifer Hayes said.

“I got out of a very abusive relationship in September and I’ve been looking for a job,” Barb said. She had just recently gotten back from an interview, she added.

“I don’t think it's a community or a state's responsibility to prevent homelessness; like I said, I feel like individuals need to put forth a lot of effort and to help themselves in their own lives,” Barb said, “but I think it's just really great that communities and neighborhoods are willing to help people out that are struggling.”

“It’s not a cookie-cutter process,” Eric Lane said. “We want to address the issues that brought them here.” Individuals may stay for up to two years as needed because of this. The shelter offers life courses, ranging from classes about physical, spiritual and mental health to financial and educational classes.