PEOPLE OF HOUSING SECURITY:
Friend’s Place Case Manager, Connor Starks, impacts the Bloomington community through his empathetic disposition and desire to help others.
For Bloomington native Connor Starks, becoming a case manager was not always on his radar. In fact, Connor studied Theater at Indiana University where he graduated in 2021.
However, in high school and college, Connor became involved doing various service activities with the InterFaith shelter, as well as St. Vincent’s. For Connor, homelessness is an issue that has always been close to his heart.
“Homelessness has been an issue that has existed in Bloomington my entire life. Some formative life memories involve setting up cots for the Interfaith Winter Shelter– Thursday nights at First Christian Church on Kirkwood, back when I was in elementary or middle school. I specifically remember one night in high school where someone called “Duck Man” came up to my group of friends and just started talking with us. My friend was terrified, but I wasn’t. We just had a nice conversation walking down Walnut, and he split off for People’s Park right around Kirkwood, Connor said.
“Later that summer, the police started holding roll call at People’s Park, and it intimidated folks enough to scatter them all down Kirkwood. That led to a string of overdose deaths, which left me very upset. It felt like the People’s Park was no longer for the people. It now sat empty, while the people were dying in the street, just a few blocks away. For the city to do something like that, and do it right after all the students had left for the summer, that sticks with you,” Connor said.
“When I started at IU that fall, no one knew what had happened. And when something similar happened the winter they kicked everyone out of Seminary Park, you start to feel like the only person your age who’s seeing these patterns,” Connor said.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Connor worked a part-time desk job at the Office of the Deans at the Jacobs School of Music. This was until he saw a job posting for a case manager position at Beacon’s Friend’s Place shelter. He decided to take a chance and apply.
Connor got the position and has been working at Friend’s Place since February of this year. In his position, Connor helps folks get in touch with various services around town, as well as makes plans to get them into housing.
“I’m of the opinion that we’re only as good as how we choose to treat our most vulnerable. So, I looked for the place I felt treated these folks with the greatest dignity, and gave them the most resources in the community. And that led me to Beacon,” Connor said.
“I’m of the opinion that we’re only as good as how we choose to treat our most vulnerable”
Since starting in February, Connor has helped over 15 people get moved into housing. An impactful moment for him was when he was able to move someone into housing who’d been one of the individuals in the shelter for the longest time.
Despite this success, Connor explains that Friend’s Place is still very busy.
“Friend’s Place is full every night. I cannot remember the last time there has been an open bed,” Connor said.
Connor thinks that there are a lot of important things that many people do not know about homelessness. A lot of people work and have an income, he explained, but they are still unable to afford both rent and food. He feels many people assume that someone must be “doing something wrong” in order to become homeless. He knows that is not the case.
“There are a lot more people that need services than you think,” Connor said.
Outside of work, Connor has an eclectic mix of hobbies and interests. You might find Connor playing with his cat Theta, or maybe you will see him writing a new creative novel. In fact, Connor has written his own book and aspires to have it published one day.
Along with his novel, Connor has always loved comics, so he hopes to be able to create his own comic. Connor has a true creative spirit and loves stories.
Music, friends and family, food, and experiences are some of the things that matter most to Connor. Broadening the mind, being in good company, and eating yummy food are essentials in his life. His favorite place to eat in Bloomington is the Village Deli.
Connor enjoys playing video games on his Nintendo Switch. He plays anything from Animal Crossing to Mario Cart to Dragon Quest. Being from Bloomington, Connor has a lot of family in town that he is able to hang out with on his days off. He enjoys being able to touch base with them and spend time together.
Even on hard days, Connor knows that just being present at the shelter is helping others. He believes that “an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all.”
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.