Donnie Robinette has spent 14 years doing what he can to help Indianapolis' homeless
By Will Higgins
It's obvious Terry Miles is resourceful. But it's also clear he needs help, and Donnie Robinette offers it to him, gently, unobtrusively.
"Terry, I'm going to bring a doctor around next week, OK?" Robinette said the other day while visiting Miles in the jury-rigged plywood shack along the White River that Miles calls home.
Miles has been homeless most of the past 15 years. Bearded and craggy, he is 54 but looks 64.
He said a doctor would be OK.
"Terry, is there anything else I can do for you?" Robinette asked.
No, nothing. The men shook hands and parted.
Robinette has had countless such exchanges with the city's homeless over the past 14 years. All part of the job -- and a tough one it is.
Robinette, 52, is one of roughly a dozen homeless- outreach workers in Indianapolis and the most senior. His job, short-term, is to keep homeless people alive. Long-term, he tries to persuade them to accept counseling, job training, housing, to coax them to "come in," as he says.
As the weather worsens, the need for proper shelter becomes pressing. But Robinette doesn't push it.
His exchange with Miles is typical of the delicate yet persistent negotiations that can span years.
"You can't judge," said Robinette, who works for the Homeless Initiative Program. "If I said, 'I'm here to save you,' they'd say, 'From what?' I like Terry. I've worked with him four years. He's not ready to come in."
Robinette's understanding of the homeless -- his street knowledge -- is said to be unsurpassed.
"Donnie knows all the nooks and crannies," said Melissa Burgess, who used to work with Robinette and now is a manager at Horizon House homeless day center.
"If I need to know something (about the homeless)," said Sgt. Bob Hipple, of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's Downtown district, "I ask Donnie."
"Homeless" covers a range of people: from those out of work or underemployed who are "doubling up" temporarily with relatives, to the "chronically" homeless, mostly alcoholic, drug-addicted, mentally ill or all three -- the ones who sleep in the nooks and crannies.
Robinette spends most of his time with the hard-cores. A count earlier this year by Indianapolis' Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) put the "chronically homeless" population at 216.
They've lived outdoors for years, stopping at shelters only long enough for an occasional meal, often getting tanked, sometimes panhandling, sometimes dying.
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