They could be your child’s classmate, or your coworker. Even a friend or a family member could be keeping a huge secret from the outside world: homelessness.
Housing Opportunities, a state-certified housing non-profit serving Northwest Indiana, hosted their 3rd Annual Masquerade Ball on Friday night to live out the event’s name, “Unmask the Face of Homelessness.”
Caroline Shook, CEO of Housing Opportunities, said most people in Northwest Indiana have no idea that homelessness is a real problem that their fellow residents face every day.
“Everybody probably knows someone who is homeless,” Shook said. “It affects not only single women and single men, but affects a lot of single parents. It could be someone they work with, or someone they go to church with. It could be somebody their kids play with and they have no idea that person is homeless. But they’re living in a car, they’re camping at the Indiana Dunes campgrounds. They are your neighbors, just not living next door to you, because they don’t have a house.”
The evening’s events took place at the Stardust Event Center at Blue Chip Casino and included a live auction, silent auction, awards presentations, a dinner, an open bar and featured live music from Soda. All proceeds supported the organization's many services. The occasion was an optional black tie event, and attendees were encouraged to wear their own decorative masks to add to the theme.
Pat Bodensteiner, a member of Housing Opportunities since 2008, said the organization’s main goal is to inform the public about the truths that often go unseen in our own communities. Pat Bodensteiner was the organization’s first volunteer and is now a board member and also chaired the night’s event along with her husband, Ivan Bodensteiner.
She said this year has sold more tickets than previous years, and more than 250 people were in attendance. Ivan Bodensteiner said that $41,000 has been recently cut from Housing Opportunities’ funds, which makes this year's fundraiser especially crucial. The masquerade ball is the non-profit’s largest fundraising event.
“The idea of unmasking is to get people educated. That’s a large part of it, is to get people to understand why homelessness happens,” Ivan Bodensteiner said. “Hopefully, if people become more aware and don’t blame those who are homeless, they may be more willing to get on board with the goals of this organization.”
Pat Bodensteiner said that much of the time, they are simply people or families who lose their homes due to circumstance, not criminals or drug addicts. The average age of an individual who is homeless is 9 years old.
“We were talking about the children who are part of a lot of homeless families,” Pat Bodensteiner said. “To think that when they go to school, and someone asks, ‘Where do you live?’ What are they going to say? In a car? On the street? So just to think about the children and what they go through, it’s so hard to deal with.”
Housing Opportunities has provided housing and countless resources to homeless individuals throughout the region for 17 years. The non-profit has housed more than 400 people this year alone.
“One of the good things about Housing Opportunities is that they’re not just trying to get people into a building, or a house,” Ivan Bodensteiner said. “They have a program that goes with it so they really work with the people that may be in one of their temporary shelters or temporary living shelters. Their goal is to not just put a roof over their head, but to really help them move forward.”
Dr. Nicky Jackson, a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Northwest, was honored as “Volunteer of the Year” for her work on a special event she hosts to benefit Housing Opportunities. For three years she’s hosted “Mardi Bra,” where women bring in bras and feminine care products to donate as entry to the event. Last Mardi Bra she hosted had 300 women who all donated supplies for homeless women and girls.
“I am extremely honored and proud to be a part of Housing Opportunities,” Jackson said. “they have been amazing to partner with.”
Among the winners were Kim Price, for Client of the Year, and Greiger’s Motor Sales in Valparaiso for Business of the Year. Housing Opportunity volunteer Jim Starin, who won the Caroline Shook Legacy Award, said many people across the region are constantly on the brink of homelessness.
“We help the people who have nowhere else to go; we are their last stop,” Starin said. “The need is growing every year. We still have 100 people on our waiting list for housing. I know there have been several times in my life where I was two decisions away from being where our clients are, so they don’t look much different than us.”
Housing Opportunities has multiple fundraising opportunities throughout the year. Visit http://www.housing-opportunities.com or their Facebook page to keep updated on events and volunteer opportunities.