As of today, two Muncie fire stations are home to special vending machines stocked with supplies to help the city’s homeless after-hours, when local service agencies aren’t open. As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, the machines are the first-of-their-kind in Indiana.
“Things like hygiene items, bottles for water, hairbrushes, combs, chapstick…”
That’s Karee Buffin, with Bridges Community Services. She’s awaiting the placement of the organization’s second vending machine to serve the homeless.
“The Fire Station 1 still has cold weather items – socks, gloves, hand warmers, blankets that people have donated. The one we’re placing today, I’m going to fill with more springtime – summer. So we’ll have ponchos, sunblock…”
Buffin says the first vending machine, placed at a Muncie fire station in November of last year, has seen a lot of use – about 20 items a month.
While Bridges is open to help Muncie’s homeless during the day – everything from showers to computer access to a place to accept mail – she says there are some that can’t make it in during the day.
“Some people don’t realize that, often, homeless have jobs, they can’t get to help during the day. So, if somebody is sleeping in their car, if they need something at night, they know if they take tokens from us, they can access things. You know, it could be midnight and they’re cold and they need a blanket.”
The vending machines are stocked with donated items and don’t cost anything to use. That’s because they run on those tokens handed out by Bridges to people that come in for help. It’s how the organization knows those who truly need the vending machine items will be the ones using them.
Buffin says Bridges hopes the visibility of the machines will also bring those who need help and don’t know the organization to their front door.
“There are a lot of homeless that are on the streets and in abandoned houses that we don’t even know about, I mean as a community. In order to try to reach those folks and get them, you know, housed – permanent housing down the road – we have to make connection with them.”
Indiana conducts a count of homeless Hoosiers on a single night each winter. 2019’s count hasn’t been released yet, but in 2018, the count found more than 3,600 homeless Hoosiers across Indiana.