Melissa Burgess

Melissa Burgess is a beacon of hope for homeless individuals in Indianapolis. She has spent the last 15 years helping those in dire need find the resources necessary to start a new chapter in life. She says her mission is to “help and empower those who are most vulnerable, provide hope and opportunities, and help create positive change for those in need.” For the last nine years, she has achieved this mission through her work at Horizon House, a full-service agency that connects the homeless with integrated, comprehensive services.

Burgess’ greatest accomplishment began in 2011, when Horizon House was awarded a contract through United Way of Central Indiana supporting the creation of a Street Outreach Rapid Response Team (SORRT). As the SORRT Coordinator, Burgess created a 24/7, 365 day a week homeless outreach program. “It’s humbling work, being able to provide hope and opportunities. They lead the path and set the goals and I have the privilege of doing it alongside them,” she said.

SORRT grew quickly thanks to Burgess’ dedication, work ethic and leadership. Now the Professional Blended Street Outreach (PBSO), it includes a network of over 60 professional outreach workers representing 22 agencies that conduct coordinated street outreach services six days and two evenings per week to individuals experiencing homelessness.

“We were able to cut down silos, break barriers, standardize and professionalize street outreach services for our most vulnerable citizens -- that’s not something that every city can say. It’s not about me as an individual or our organization; it’s about working with the clients and that’s something really powerful,” she said of the work PBSO does.

PBSO was recognized by the City-County Council in 2014 for its positive impact on the lives of homeless individuals as well as its benefits to the community in reducing public costs for care. Burgess sees this positive impact daily. “When we engage them on the streets, it may be the only positive experience they have had. We might be the only people who have said hello in a day, a week, a month. It’s so important just to say hi, it can seem like such a simple thing, but it can mean so much.”