April Erxleben was among the hundreds of people who walked Sunday through downtown Fort Wayne to raise money to help the homeless.
The issue is near and dear to her heart, she said, because she knows what its like to live without a roof over her head.
Ive been there, she said. We see a lot of homeless these days and it breaks my heart. Weve got to support each other and lift each other up. Everybodys not out there because theyre lazy. Theyre out there because some traumatic stuff has happened to them.
At least 300 people participated in the 10th annual Homeward Bound 5-kilometer walk Sunday.
The walk, which started out at Headwaters Park and then weaved through the West Central neighborhood before returning, was expected to bring in between $35,000 and $40,000 for 13 local agencies that serve the homeless population in the area.
Local service agencies formed their own walking teams that raised money for their organization. But anyone could form a team, and those not affiliated with any organization split their pledge money among all 13 service agencies.
Before embarking on the 3-mile journey, Erxleben stood on a stage and shared her story with a crowd gathered at Headwaters Park.
A little more than three years ago, the 35-year-old was addicted to drugs, homeless, and unable to see her seven children, she said. Then she got in touch with Genesis Outreach Inc, a local service agency that provides help with addictions, transitional living help and other services.
It was a lot of struggles, she said. But I got my act together.
Today, shes on her feet again – in school, drug free, and living in a four bedroom house with her children. She wouldnt have been able to do it, she said, if it werent for groups like Genesis Outreach.
Ann Helmke, director of Vincent Village and organizer of the walk, said homelessness has been a growing problem in northeast Indiana over the last few years.
She attributed the trend to the number of foreclosures, as well as the difficulty of finding jobs in the weak economy.
All of our shelters are either full or have waiting lists, she said, adding that the largest number of homeless people were families with children.
Since its start in 2003, Homeward Bound has raised more than $3 million for over 100 affordable housing and homeless service providers across the state, according to organizers.
Catherine Peterson, who joined the walk at the urging of her daughter-in-law, said she hadnt participated in a similar event since high school but was moved to join because of the importance of the cause.
You would not realize how many people are homeless, she said. Times are tough right now and we have to do all we can to support people.