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Helping The Fort’s Homeless

As Fort Wayne faces what one expert calls an “explosion” in its homeless problem, one volunteer is doing her best to combat the continuing problem.

Sally Becker Segerson has become a force for helping the homeless in Fort Wayne, dropping off supplies that homeless are in desperate need of, and advocating for them as well.

Through her Street Reach for the Homeless program, the Fort Wayne woman has continued her mission to help homeless individuals in the city by providing meals and supplies for our community’s most vulnerable residents.

Her most regular spot for outreach is at the Wayne Township office downtown at 320 E. Superior Street on Mondays.

“Every Monday, we offer a hot meal, and we give away food, tents, sleeping bags, gloves, and blankets,” she said. “And we always have one special item – something they can’t buy with their EBT cards – like soap and other toiletries.”

Segerson said its pretty much set up to they can take what they need.

“They simply walk up and see what’s there, and take what they need,” Segerson said.

Segerson also drops off supplies at the outdoor pantries scattered around the city, such as the one outside the Forward Indiana offices, and the one in front of Bravas restaurant on Fairfield Ave.

She said her donated meals usually feed about 150 – 200 people. And about 450 to 600 people usually take advantage of Segerson’s variety of donated supplies.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just about finding enough food and supplies for those in need. A recent downtown blaze is suspected to have been caused by homeless people starting a fire in a building to try and keep warm during the on-going cold snap. That fire was at the Valspar Corp. Paint factory on Jan. 16.

Local shelter officials also have noted that the recent sub-zero temperatures and frigid wind chills have sent shelter populations soaring, filling the St. Joseph Missions Women’s Shelter and the Rescue Mission, located downtown at 404 E. Washington Blvd.

Surprisingly, Segerson said during her winter drop-offs, there are fewer folks than at her summer donations. She noted that in winter, there are normally around 40 to 50 people waiting for supplies, but roughly 70 or more during her summer runs. She explained that’s because people are willing to walk further to get to the sites during better weather.

“People will walk farther in the summer,” she said, “Some of them will come all the way from the south side (of the city) and walk 40 to 45 minutes just to come to the site.”

All of Segerson’s outreach supplies are donated, she noted. She was unsure of the total yearly cost of her efforts.

Segerson said the homeless problem in our area has “exploded over the last couple of years.” The main reason, as she sees it? The pandemic.

Peaking in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic not only sickened a large amount of the populace, it also wreaked significant financial hardship, costing hundreds of people their jobs, and putting undue financial pressures on families ill prepared to handle it.

“There is a direct correlation to the pandemic,” Segerson noted, “People either lost their jobs, or it pushed them over the financial edge.

“So many people were – and are – just one paycheck away from disaster. It could be back to school expenses, medical expenses, or it could be just too much to bear,” Segerson said.

Local government agencies are preparing to assess the problem.

The Region 3 Planning Council on Homelessness is readying its annual homeless “census,” in which it attempts to count the homeless population in Allen, Steuben, LaGrange, DeKalb, Noble, Huntington, Wells, and Adams counties. The council, which “exists to help individuals experiencing homelessness,” conducts the count once a year in January.

This year’s count happened on Jan. 24, and its data will be used to report the area’s homeless population to Congress, so they can more accurately allocate resources and money necessary to fight the problem.

“If we aren’t reporting accurately, Congress won’t see the full picture,” said Erin Ness, executive director of St. Joseph Missions Women’s Shelter, and also chairperson of the Region 3 Planning Council on Homelessness. “That results in less funding and we aren’t able to serve as many of our homeless population.”

Segerson, age 70, still works full-time at another job while laboring at her homeless outreach. She noted her work is crucial, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

“This is just what’s happening across the country,” Segerson said. “Like, the Rescue Mission, this week, had 100 more people than normal.

Local Resources

  • Single women can call St. Joseph Mission at
    (260) 426-7358.
  • Families can call Just Neighbors at (260) 458-9772.
  • Anyone seeking shelter can call the Rescue Mission at (260) 426-7357. And to go over options other than just shelter, dial ext. 156 between 2p.m. and 3 p.m.
Michael Morrissey
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Michael Morrissey

Michael is a professional writer and journalist. He attended South Side High School and Northwestern University. He has written for newspapers in Michigan City, Indiana; Pekin, Illinois; and Bradenton, Florida. He also has written for and edited websites in Florida and San Francisco, California. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer