Good Samaritan Holiday Assistance Walkthrough

My previous article presented some pictures from the Good Samaritan of Hamilton County’s holiday assistance program. It showed some of the rooms prior to the event. The event is now over for 2018 (although Good Samaritan will still be doing meals near Christmas). I was unable to get pictures that showed how the rooms looked at the end, but suffice it to say that the housewares were picked over, the food was all distributed, and the toys and books that were left were primarily the second hand toys, many of which showed a lot of wear and tare.

One thing I was able to do quickly was walk the path that clients getting assistance would follow. I took the below video the morning of the event right before clients were going to be allowed to sign in and start their “shopping”.

People who have signed up and been approved for this event start lining up the night before. When I arrived at the building about 30 to 45 minutes before the doors were to open, the line stretched out to the parking lot and down the sidewalk. It was hundreds of people standing in line in the cold. Out of respect for their privacy, I don’t have pictures to show the line, but take my word – it was long.That event started at 8:00am, which is when the line started moving. It kept going for 6 or 7 hours with the last of the people “shopping leaving between four and five in the evening.

This year I spent more time helping with issues in the toy/kid room, but still took the time to walk a few families through. I was joined by high school kids, parents with middle aged children, and adults who were also working with families, by helping them work through the kids clothes and toys. While it seems like an easy task, it is tougher than you’d think. It also, however, is rewarding to help families find that near perfect toy for their kids.

For me, the hope is that when they get home, they will have what they need to have a very merry Christmas holiday.

 

Christmas with Good Samaritan

I wrote about Poverty and the Christmas Spirit in Hamilton County last week. This week I’ve had the chance to volunteer with Good Samaritan for their Holiday Assistance Program. The work has been hard and the event is still a little more than a day away.

Hundreds of volunteers have already helped at the fair grounds to get this facility ready for the assistance give-away. In the last two days, I’ve worked with numerous parents, company groups, the Fishers High School basketball team, kids from a local elementary school, and numerous others. All of these people spent time helping to set up an assistance program that will give away thousands of household items, toys, items of clothing, food, and bikes to those that could use a little assistance.

While work has been going into this program for months (if not the entire past year), I’ve only helped the last two days. What does this event look like? The following are pictures from setting up two of the three main rooms from Wednesday night. This first picture is the main room where toys will be given out:

The toy room is primarily toys and books that will be given out to families who will be able to “shop” (select) toys based on need. I also grabbed a quick shot of the housewares room:

The housewares room contains houseware items, more clothes, and a much more.

On Thursday, a lot was accomplished. The following is a picture of the toy room. You can see that with the help of the volunteers, a lot of items were spread out in the room. In addition to toys and books, this room also contains clothing for younger boys and girls as well as a few special items such as slippers and boots.

Here is the ‘food room’ on Thursday evening with some of the volunteers working hard!

Of course, there is still a lot of work to happen on Friday before the big event on Saturday. I’ll take additional pictures on Friday to give you more of an idea of the scope of this event.

While the picture show a lot of stuff across the rooms, it doesn’t mean there will be enough for those that need assistance. It is because more could always be used that I often put out an “ask”. If you are in the Hamilton County area, please consider donating ‘like new’ or even new toys and such to Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County. They collect all year for this event. When you see that toy that is on clearance for a crazy low price, why not buy it and donate it to an organization like Good Samaritan?

I’ll do my best to post a few more pictures over the next two or three days! The housewares room looks completely different! Of course, if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see pictures there!

 

Nickel Plate Trail Feedback to the City

The city had a public meeting on December 4th regarding the city budget. I’ve raised concerns in the past about increasing taxes for a trail that doesn’t have a budget. I wrote quick notes to have in case I chose to speak. I did speak, but because comments by others prior to my speaking, I went off script. While I didn’t present what I wrote below, I did speak on the overall topics presented. I spent a little more time talking about needing a better understanding of the return on the investment of the trail. If the trial is going to provide $300 million (or some number) of economic growth, then why do we need to increase taxes? What portion of that growth will come to the city and thus cover the cost of the trail?

I share the following as what I prepared as my notes to use in talking on the Fishers City Budget and the Nickel Plate Trail tax increase.

Nickel Plate Trail Feedback

Brad Jones, November 4th, 2018 – Feedback to Fishers

Thank you for allowing me to take a moment of your time.

I’m Brad Jones and I live in Stevenson Mill across from Conner Prairie. This neighborhood is the one that had four wrecks in the span of 12 months on Allisonville at the neighborhood entrance. People turning into the neighborhood have a tendency of getting rear-ending as cars try to illegally pass on the right side of them. I was told two people later died as a result of the accidents during that period.

How does this relate to budgeting for a trail?

Near the time of the fourth accident within 12 months, I asked for a bump out or blister to be added to Allisonville to help improve the safety by giving cars a way to pass. The response from the city was that such an expense was not in the budget. It was not in the budget, but as a consolation, they would put a sign at the north end of Conner Prairie warning to watch for turning cars. Even after a follow-up or two, the sign was never put up.

A lack of budget.

Four wrecks in 12 months would have likely put the entrance to Stevenson Mill into the top 20 locations for accidents in Fishers if it were an intersection.

People died.

My kids are in jeopardy every time we turn into the neighborhood going South on Allisonville.

Lack of budget prevented a safety change.

This is just one area where budget doesn’t support a safety update. I recall a person mentioning sidewalk safety issues along Fall Creek – but again there was no budget to address all the sidewalks that are needed across the city.

Did I mention people died?

If you said you were increasing taxes for safety reasons – or to do things that benefit the community in a way that increase safety – such as updating fire stations — then I’m sure people would support it within reason.

But, when safety issues are outside of the budget and don’t warrant increasing taxes, then how do you justify raising taxes for an asphalt sidewalk?

People died. My neighbors were seriously hurt.

Question One: Where are the Real Numbers?

So let’s say the city does raise taxes and forge ahead with the trial….
Then that raises two questions I’ve been asking. The first is, where’s the budget or plan?

Understandably, you can’t have a solid budget until you have a plan. You can, however, have an estimate that is realistic and relatively close for a baseline. This isn’t the first asphalt sidewalk, err, trail to be built.

An estimate that is closer to reality based on the speculation for road crossing costs, the $1 million dollar a trail mile, and a rough idea of some of the base feature costs. Of course, to be complete, there is an expectation that this would include an estimate for connecting the side road sidewalks to the trail on locations like 106th and 131st where the sidewalks don’t connect all the way to the tracks – areas where there are streams or other obstacles that are going to add substantially to the cost.

Being that connectivity has been a big part of the promotion of the trail, an estimate of costs should also include how the 96th Street and 146th Street crossing will be covered along with information on when Indy and Noblesville will be building from those locations. Those two locations are going to be outrageously expensive if safety is a factor. Even though it has been called out as being substantially wrong, the Nickel Plate Trail FAQ continues to promote a deceptively low cost of $4.4 and a promise to “value engineer for cost savings.”

As a side note, the FAQ also says the timeline for the first phase is 2019-2020. What is not stated in the FAQs about the timeline is that (based on comments from a community meeting), the suggestions being solicited from the public are part of a 20-year plan – a plan that means they kindergartners helping with designs might be graduating college before they are implemented.

Question Two: Why the Redundant Section First?

The second question, I’ve raised before as well. If you are going to spend tax dollars on the trail, then why pick 106th to 126th Street as the initial phase rather than focusing on the areas that would extend existing trails? With existing trails between 106 and 126 that are near the tracks (one of which I believe is even called Nickel Plate Trail), it seems like it would be more valuable to the community to do 96th to 106 or 131st to 146th first. With the new business center South of 106th, going South would seem to make a lot of sense. These trails could connect to the existing trails at Cheeney Creek Nature Park and the trail at 131st and Lantern Road.

Trains and Mass Transit

Finally, I’ll add that I’m not a “save the train” person.

I like trains, but the train derailed a long time ago. Having said that, the feedback from Amazon indicated that mass transit was one of the key reasons that many cities lost bids. Having a Mass transit system in and out of Fishers going into Indianapolis could do wonders for the city – especially as the need for low-wage workers increases (bring them into town) and as the number of destinations within Fishers that need customers also increases. Having an existing corridor that could be used for such transportation could be a boon.

A return of the train has been suggested for this as has light rail, but there are other options that could be used for building consistently scheduled mass transit as well – electric busses or trams down a dedicated pathway are a prime example that would require a much smaller right of way. These could be done with a ‘share the path’ approach. They could also be done on similar asphalt to the trail – instead of rails.

When it comes to the cost….

When it comes to the tax cost to fund the trail, the comment is that “The tax increase is only a penny to a penny and a half”. The wheel tax is only $25, and the last school referendum was lower than our neighboring city.

The residents of Fishers don’t pay just the penny; we pay the aggregate of all the pennies, nickels, and dimes. This equates to hundreds of pennies that result in thousands of dollars for most of us. While city taxes might be lower, the net tax that resident of Fishers pay is higher than neighboring cities.

If you ask us if we’d rather our pennies go to updating an amphitheater, building a trail, or instead go with safety issues such as fixing pot holes and adding SROs to our school, then I will speculate that the response will be overwhelmingly be the later. Granted, those are safety issues, so while the residents would choose fixing pot holes and adding SROs, the city ‘leadership’ has already indicated their priority.

If we can’t do the trail without raising taxes and without taking from other more critical projects, then we shouldn’t do it. If there is the chance for economic payback, then show the numbers in a plan. Show the increase in revenue for the city that would not have otherwise been generated. Compare that to the cost of the trail with normalized dollar values. I would expect such ROI to be part of a plan / budget you’d create before money was spent – let alone before a tax increase was considered.

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Noblesville’s rendering of their part of the trail. A stroll between two roads….

Poverty and the Christmas Spirit in Hamilton County

Good Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are seen by many to be the launch of the Christmas season. For me, the launch of the Christmas season is seen more in an annual event done by Good Samaritan Network in Hamilton county; the Christmas Holiday Assistance Program.

I live in Hamilton County, which based on census data has over 323,747 people with 27.4% or roughly 89,000 of those being kids (people under the age of 18). With a low cost of living, the average home lived in by its owner (not rented) is valued at $230,000. The median household income as of 2016 was $87,782, well over the poverty level.

In such an area, it is not surprising that the level of poverty is low at just 4.8% (based on SAIPE, which is reported to underestimate). With poverty at this low level, most people don’t even notice those that are struggling, even though they might live in the same neighborhood. But to be clear, 4.8% still equates to 15,540 people.

In the City of Fishers, the poverty level is lower than the county level. Per city-data.com, Fishers has a poverty rate of 3.2%. When applied to the roughly 91,000 residents, this equates to almost 3,000 people. Carmel has a similar population with a poverty rate of 4.0%, which equate so roughly 3,600 people. Noblesville has a lower population closer to 60,000 residents, but the poverty rate is at 9.8% or over 5,800 people. These poverty statistics are for all people in each of these cities; however, more kids tend to be in poverty than adults. For example, while the Noblesville poverty level is 9.8%, 11.7% of Noblesville kids are in families below the poverty level. The other big town, Westfield, has a poverty rate of 8.8%, with 9.5% of kids being below the poverty level.

A discussion of poverty numbers might not seem like a way to get into the Christmas spirit; however, it is the best way to get into the real Christmas spirit.

Good Samaritan Network (GoodSam), organizes an annual Christmas Holiday Assistance program that help thousands of families in Hamilton County. They do this with the support of thousands of people throughout the year. It all comes together, however, the beginning of December. This year it comes together next week with the assistance being provided on Saturday, December 9th at the Noblesville Fair Grounds.

The holiday assistance program provides household items, clothing, toys, and food to thousands. The event relies upon donations of items that are both new and “like new”. For many of the families, a “like new” item is greatly appreciated because it is better than what they had. Having helped the past few years, I know that there are never enough new toys to cover every family, and I know that toys for older kids often run out first. I was told this week, that there was still a need for a lot of toys for kids from 6 to 13. When buying toys to donate, the 6 to 13 age is one of the most fun to shop. As such, for those looking to help, donating toys for this age group would be fantastic.

Did I mention this event is huge?

This event is so big that it will take several days to set up. This Saturday, December 2nd, a number of volunteers will sort and organize food boxes that will be given out at the event. Starting next Wednesday (December 6th) from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, the setup for the main “give-away” will start. The setup will continue all day Thursday through Friday evening. It takes hundreds of people to organize the items and get the setup ready to go for Saturday. On Saturday, families that have registered in advance with GoodSam will line up and work through the Noblesville fairground to receive the assistance. Last year, families started lining up Friday night.

To get these families through in a timely manner requires hundreds of volunteers. In fact, an email this week indicated there were over 500 volunteers still needed:

SETUP
Wednesday – 54 open slots
Thursday – 190 open slots
Friday – 18 open slots
EVENT
Saturday – 292 open slots

Volunteers are needed in all areas including assisting families with toy and clothing selection, which is the heart of the distribution. These volunteers help by either working with the items, or by walking through the giveaway area with families to guide them in picking items. There is also the area of helping with food boxes which is as simple as pushing a cart that has items for a family holiday meal as well as other items. There is also always a need as well for helping people get items to their car, helping cleanup, and other tasks.

I’ve worked primarily in the toys and clothing area the last few years on the day of the event (and all of the other areas on other days). Guiding families through the clothing and toy area provides a chance to help them pick out items as well as to chat and hear their stories. While most families are quiet, there are some very touching stories to be heard for those that do share.

I walked through one man who shared about his situation. He came through late in the day, so the choices for toys were very picked over. Even so, he wanted to take less than he was allowed so as to leave things for others. He as appreciative from the beginning to the end. His story was more than I can share in total for both privacy and simply because of how much there is to say. His story is, however, representative of many families in Hamilton County that are struggling now. His wife was the primary income driver for their family, and he primarily was qualified for low wage jobs. His wife ended up with a debilitating illness that put her out of work the past year. It was an unexpected life change that left them in a position where just paying the rent was a struggle. Because he was working jobs that were low wage, simply providing regular meals for the kids had become a struggle. Toys for Christmas were beyond their financial ability, so the holiday assistant program was providing him the chance to make sure his kids would have presents. The bad luck of an unexpected medical condition had spun their stability out of control. His appreciation for what was being provided was clear. The toys he did take were clearly going to help provide his family a Christmas they would otherwise not likely been able to have.

Helping this one person made the event worthwhile to me; however, he was one of thousands that had their own stories.

Of course, this event requires items to give out as well as volunteers to make it happen. If you want to help with the setup or on the day of the event, you can find a sign-up form at:

www.gsnlive.org/ivolunteer

In addition to helping with the toys/clothing or the food, there is also tear down and cleanup. Not all of the families can make it to the fairground, so GoodSam also delivers some of the food boxes and toys. If you have a vehicle and driver’s license, then can help deliver these items to families. There is plenty to.

If you don’t have time to volunteer, then it’s not too late to donate. Good toys are always needed. In fact, this is one of the few events that will take “like new” toys. If you are planning to load your kids with new toys this Christmas, then now is a great time to take the toys they are not playing with that are like new and donate them. For kids with very little, a ‘like new’ toy will be “new” to them. Granted, new toys are important too! Toys can be dropped off at Good Samaritan’s office near 131st Street and 37, or (better) they can be dropped off at the Noblesville Fair Ground next week during the setup times.

As one of the people at Good Samaritan said this week, “Christmas is caring… Christmas is sharing.” This event is a way to share and care, which is great way to get into the Christmas spirit. For me, it is the realy start of the Christmas holiday. The Good Samaritan Assistant Program is a great way to help your neighbors here in Hamilton County; neighbors that have a huge need you might not have noticed.

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Paying for a Trail That Already Exists: The Fishers Nickel Plate Trail

The Fishers City Council approved an increase to property taxes to pay for the first phase of the new Nickel Plate Trail that has been proposed to replace the Nickel Plate rail. This tax increase is to help fund the $7 to $9 million cost for the first of three phases of the trail.

What is worth noting is that the tax increase is roughly double the initial cost estimate for the total trail, even though it is only for the first phase. At the time of this writing the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) site for the Nickel Plate Trail still shows an estimated cost of roughly 4.4 million for the Fishers section.


Figure: Trails and Tracks

The first phase of the Nickel Plate Trial will run from 106th Street to 126th. What hasn’t been stated clearly is that there are already trails that run from just north of 106th all the way to 131st Street. These trails are within two blocks of either side of the tracks where the new Nickel Plate trail is expected to be. In fact, parts of these trails run next to the tracks. This raises the question, that if existing trails already run from 106th near the tracks to 131st, then why will seven to nine million be spent building another trail?

The Existing Trails

Just north of 106th Street at the rail road tracks, you can find the Cheeney Creek Loop trail that runs through Cheeney Creek Natural Area. Not only does this park include walking and biking tails, but it also has a small lake (pond), lots of trees and a picnic area. The park and trails go from 106th Street to just north of 116th Street.


Figure: Cheeney Creek Area

North of the Cheeney Creek loop, the path crosses the road and winds through trees, around a pond, and through a neighborhood. In this area the trail winds through Big Wheel Park. This park on the path includes playground equipment, a hilly sidewalk for kids to have fun, more picnic tables, and other amenities. Next to the park are both a creek and a pond.


Figure: Big Wheel Park

The trail continues from Big Wheel Pond  across 116th Street and through the downtown area. You’ve likely noticed the cross walk just east of the tracks on 116th. Ironically, while the city expects to spend $2 to $5 million to build an underpass for a new trail where the tracks are located, there have been no comments about the crosswalk that is less than a stone throw away. What has been noted (but I’ve not confirmed), is that there are drainage issues in that area which could result in extra costs to try to build a trail that goes under the road.

If you continue on the path through the downtown area, you’ll find that forks around the library and Lantern Road. One part of the fork is a path that winds across Lantern Road and the railroad tracks and goes through the Tech center area. The path then follows (parallels) the railroad tracks going up towards and then past the Launch Fishers facility. You can see parts of this form in the next figure. The area near Launch Fishers includes a few more picnic tables just off the path.


Figure: Trial in the Fishers Tech Park area.

The other fork going from downtown goes from the library area north along Lantern Road. This is a newly updated trail  that follows Lantern Road all the way to 131st Street, where it turns West to Allisonville. At Allisonville, the path then turns North and goes to the entrance of Conner Prairie. Why the city build a path from downtown to a facility that charges admission is unclear, but the path has been built. Currently the construction on Allisonville at 131st Street disconnects the part of the trail that is in front of Conner Prairie. That part of the path has been built and torn up (the grass and landscaping) several times in the last 12 to 18 months as road work is being done. Hopefully it isn’t tax dollars paying for the repetitive task.


Figure: Trail from Lantern Road to Conner Prairie

Building New Trails

The existing trails from Cheeney Creek to 131st are within a block or two of the railroad tracks. These trails are all relatively new and paid for with previous tax dollars. As such, turning the rails into a trail between 106th and 126th as a first phase seems not only redundant with what is already there, but possibly unnecessary. The fact that the city is raising taxes to build a trail nearly on top of existing trails, should cause many citizens of Fishers to raise there voices in concern with how their tax dollars are being spent.


Figure: Trails from 106th to 126th

If the City wants to add trails, then, it would make more sense to build the trail from 96th to 106th connecting to Cheeney Creek’s trails and then build a connection from the 131st and Lantern trail to the tracks and go North. This would add new trail areas.

Of course, when a trail already exists in the same area, then there is the question of how much is this new trail worth. While the city posted $4.4 million as a base cost in the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs, I’m not alone in estimating a cost that is likely to go over $30,000 ,000. That, however, is a topic for another article.

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