KOKOMO — Thelma Whitaker found herself stranded in California with no money, no car and no way home.
The 66-year-old Russiaville native had been abandoned there by her significant other earlier this year. Her family arranged a flight back to Indiana, but without any income to pay for an apartment, Whitaker had few living options.
That’s when a family member suggested she reach out to Howard Haven.
Since 1857, the county home, historically referred to as the poor farm or asylum, has served Howard County as a “permanent home for the helpless and unfortunate poor,” according to a commissioner who approved its construction.
After living with a niece for a few weeks, Whitaker moved into a room at Howard Haven in June. She receives three home-cooked meals a day, laundry service, utilities and amenities like cable TV — all for $41 a day.
“I’m glad I found someplace,” Whitaker said. “I’m from Russiaville and Kokomo, and I never even knew about this place. But it’s safe here, and I’m satisfied.”
A HOME NO MORE
Indiana’s county homes have provided that safe haven for over 160 years.
The first state constitution ratified in 1816 included a stipulation that provided “one or more farms, to be an asylum for those persons who by reason of age, infirmity, or other misfortunes may have claim upon the beneficence of society.”
From 1831 to 1860, all of Indiana’s 92 counties established a poor farm that operated as the state’s first version of a social-safety-net program, according to research conducted by James Glass, owner of Historic Preservation & Heritage Consulting.
The asylums eventually morphed