Safe Places to Make a Fresh Start

by Chris Bavender

Two Midtown nonprofits offer safety and support to women and children fleeing abusive relationships and to traumatized young mothers who have run out of options.

 Project Home Indy

Located in the Historic Meridian Park neighborhood, Project Home Indy (PHI) provides “holistic, trauma-informed services to teen mothers to create successful futures for themselves and their children,” according to Lakshmi Hasanadka, executive director and one of the co-founders.

Lakshmi Hasanadka

“One of my co-founders had heard a story on NPR about a similar program a few years earlier,” Hasanadka explained. “She presented the idea to the rest of us. After doing some research, we realized how needed the program was and decided to move forward.” That was in December 2004. A partnership with Trinity Episcopal Church allowed PHI to purchase a residential property and open its doors in 2011. Hasanadka has been the executive director since July 2014.

PHI serves teen moms ages 15 to 19 who are pregnant or parenting and have experienced significant trauma. “The youth we serve are extremely vulnerable and an underserved population, ” she said. “Most of the residents under 18 are wards of the state placed with us by the Indiana Department of Child Services. It is very hard to find placement where the mom and baby can stay together, so our program is designed to work with moms who have nowhere else to live.”

“Our capacity is five moms and five babies. The house has five bedrooms and each mom shares a room with her baby,” Hasanadka said. PHI’s program is evidence-based and follows curricula based on research and best practices in working with the moms. “Each mom is given different assessments to determine her individual needs. We then create a treatment plan to ensure that she is receiving programming that will help her work through her individual barriers,” she said. “Programming often includes parenting, financial literacy, health care, therapy, healthy relationships, and independent living skills. Above all else, we work to ensure we are addressing root causes of the issues that plague our young moms. We do not want to merely treat the symptoms they are facing.”

Hasanadka said by helping the young moms work through those root causes, PHI can help ensure they are able to have long-term success. “For example, if we admit a mom to the program who has not been attending school, we can work with her to ensure she is enrolled in school, that she has transportation to get there, and that she has a tutor in place,” she said. “All wonderful and needed things. However, we also evaluate and address the ‘whys.’ Why wasn’t she attending school before? Perhaps she never developed the skills needed to understand why school is important for her future, perhaps she didn’t feel safe at school, perhaps she has unaddressed barriers to learning, or something else. We will help reduce or eliminate those root-cause barriers to ensure her educational needs are addressed.”

Moms can stay at PHI for up to two years while they prepare for life outside of the safety of the home. “When she moves out of PHI, she should be ready to live independently. We teach young moms how to navigate systems and manage the life of a parent. It is important for a young mom to learn how to find safe, stable care for her baby while she works or is in school,” Hasanadka said. “Thus, we teach our residents how to find daycare, how to apply for assistance to pay for the daycare, how to talk with the child’s teacher, how to ensure the child is ready for school and ready to learn each day, and how to transport the child to daycare. When the mom moves out of PHI, we will not be there to watch her child every day, and she must be ready for real life.”

Coburn Place Safe Haven

Located on 38th Street at the southern edge of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, Coburn Place offers transitional housing for domestic violence survivors and their children. According to Shawnta Beverly, the mission impact director for Coburn Place, residents stay from six months to two years in 35 furnished apartments that come rent-free with utilities paid except for cable or extra devices.

Shawnta Beverly

“The women must be victims of ‘intimate domestic abuse’ by a spouse or live-in partner and would otherwise be homeless. There is a waiting list of about eight to 12 months depending on the size of the family,” Beverly said.

When residents find permanent housing and are ready to move on, they can take their furniture with them, which is why Coburn Place is always in need of donated furniture and home furnishings.

In January, Lilly Endowment’s latest round of financial sustainability grants to central Indiana human services agencies included a $2.5 million grant to Coburn Place. Executive director Julia Kathary said the majority of funds will be used to create an endowment fund to build long-term financial health. The remaining $500,000 of the grant will be used during a three-year grant period to build Coburn Place’s annual fundraising capacity.

Since the grant didn’t fund day-to-day operational expenses, Coburn Place continues to publish a wish list of urgently needed items for its residents, including non-perishable food items. The connection between domestic violence and food insecurity is well documented. Volunteer opportunities are available for grounds maintenance and landscaping, helping to set up apartments, assisting with children’s activities, answering phones and assisting with receptionist duties, and helping adult residents with GED study. Interested individuals should visit and complete the volunteer application form, then call 317-923-5750 to schedule an interview. A volunteer orientation program will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 5.

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A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2019 print edition of the magazine.