People of Housing Secuirty:
Melissa Burgess

Bloomington coordinator for Homeless Initiative Program values being able to provide medical care to those in need.

Melissa Burgess grew up on the eastside of Indianapolis. During her childhood she watched her mom pursue a career as a social worker which had a significant impact on her life. In college, Melissa got a Bachelors in Social Work at Indiana State University and then received a Masters of Social Work from Indiana University. 

Back in November of 2021, Melissa was working at HealthNet Homeless Initiative Program (HIP) Indianapolis when the director suggested she go to Bloomington to see what the community needed. After months of building relationships with people working in the field of housing security, Melissa was able to identify gaps and barriers in the system. She realized additional medical and psychiatric services could be of use in the community, specifically for those that were not able to go out and seek help themselves. It was from here that the start of her now 6 person team formed. 

As HealthNet’s Homeless Initiative Program (HIP) Bloomington coordinator, Melissa Burgess oversees a street medicine team in Bloomington, Indiana. This is the only street medicine team in Indiana. The HIP team provides medical care for homeless individuals in emergency shelters and those experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

Since its beginning Melissa’s team has not only grown in people, but they also recently moved into their own building. Melissa stated that the beauty of the street medicine team is that they’re able to “Meet them [clients] where they’re at, when they’re ready.” 

In her position, Melissa’s days typically consist of writing grants, doing street outreach, and attending “lots of meetings.” Melissa strives to strengthen relationships with other agencies and their clients. Melissa said she enjoys going out into the field with her team a couple times a month because “If you talk about the work, you need to be doing work.”

While Melissa has been with HealthNet’s Bloomington Coordinator for nearly two years now, Melissa has worked in the field of housing security for the past 20 years of her life. Melissa said that it was through volunteering for AmeriCorp that she found her passion in housing services. Melissa recalled the first woman she encountered while volunteering and the impact it had on her. She explained that the woman was older and near freezing from how cold the temperatures were, yet she took it upon herself to offer a cup of warm coffee to Melissa. That memory and the selflessness of that woman still sticks with Melissa to this day. 

“It’s an honor to walk their journey with them.”

Melissa Burgess

Melissa also spent time working for Midtown Community Health, Partners in Housing, and twelve years at Horizon House. At Horizon House she oversaw the outreach case management team and helped develop programs. One program Melissa developed, still in use to this day, is the Professional Blended Street Outreach (PBSO) program that worked towards bringing a more collaborative approach to outreach. Melissa also currently serves on the Heading Home Built for Zero team.

All of these experiences have cultivated Melissa’s perspectives on life, and allowed her to live life with an appreciation for the little things. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys spending time with her family, going camping in various state parks with her dog and significant other, and getting to travel.

Melissa expressed how she wished more people realized “It’s not a choice” for those suffering from homelessness to be in the position they’re in. Melissa believes that everyone could use a slice of “humble pie”. She challenges more people to find ways to get outside of their bubble and have self-awareness of their privilege. Melissa reminds us it’s up to us to provide resources for those that are in need, and she believes “It’s an honor to walk their journey with them.”