- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - On a chilly morning, Tammy VanMeter and her kittens came out from underneath a blanket to find the flames had gone out inside a cast-iron stove that heats her makeshift home.

“I’m getting too old to be homeless,” said VanMeter, 46, prodding two of her roommates to rekindle the fire inside an old passenger car she has called home for months.

“Train City,” as it’s known to her and her Jeffersonville neighbors, also includes a few steel shipping containers where about a dozen others in the southern Indiana homeless community live.

Some, like Jeffersonville native VanMeter, lived near Interstate 65 in downtown Jeffersonville and neighboring Clarksville until they were forced to move for Ohio River Bridges Project construction. She has lived in tents and at Haven House Services, southern Indiana’s only permanent emergency shelter.

As rain and winter weather threatens to slam the region this week, VanMeter said she prefers the rundown passenger car, which provides better protection from the elements than camping and has fewer restrictions than the shelter.

“This is the last train,” she told The Courier-Journal (https://cjky.it/1GS7n0s ) of her new-found desire to seek help. “This is my last ride.”

VanMeter is just one of the many homeless people in southern Indiana and Louisville who were counted during a bitter cold snap last month by volunteers with Wayside Christian Mission’s Samaritan Patrol. She is hoping to transition into a more full-time housing after being pushed farther away from downtown following the adoption of an anti-camping ordinance Jeffersonville passed last year.

Paul Stensrud, director of Jesus Cares at Exit 0 ministries, has gotten written permission from the land and property owners to allow the homeless to occupy “Train City.”

“It’s acting as a transition for us so we can get them into programs,” Stensrud said. “They don’t want to go into the shelter and we don’t have a building.”

A city-funded homelessness study for Clark and Floyd counties is expected to be finalized following public comments during a forum next week at the main library.

Stensrud stepped down from the Jeffersonville Homelessness Task Force that called for the study after the city council approved the camping ban, though he and ministry volunteers have remained connected to council leaders and the homeless, focusing on feeding and helping them get connected to medical, social service and housing programs.

When temperatures plummeted well below zero last month, Haven House had 104 people, higher than its typical 80 to 90. Exit 0 also opened its supply building at Federal Avenue and Spring Street as a second emergency shelter, then moved to a church due to the cost of heating the building.

In 2013, VanMeter was living under I-65 with her boyfriend, Troy White, who has since gotten sober, employed and is living with family members. He also is attending church and group meetings for his addictions, said Stensrud, who hopes White’s success will keep reminding VanMeter of the path she needs to follow.

One of VanMeter’s current roommates, Wayne, an Atlanta native who has been on the streets a year, said he hopes the homeless study will encourage the city to fund more programs to help the homeless find housing, medical and employment opportunities.

Stensrud has had some recent success stories in encouraging others to leave Train City.

Nathaniel “Lake” Brown, 28, and his wife Whitney, 27, lived there for three years after becoming addicted to Opana.

Both have now been clean for six months and are living with family.

“We got fed up with it and decided it was time to do something different with our lives,” said Brown, who now tries to help mentor others during Exit 0 meals “to try to show it can be done, if you want it.”

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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