Affordable housing stays at forefront of Oxford group discussions

A photo rendering of what the cottages considered for Hester Road would look like. SUBMITTED/Community Development Professionals

Credit: Community Development Professionals

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A photo rendering of what the cottages considered for Hester Road would look like. SUBMITTED/Community Development Professionals

Credit: Community Development Professionals

Homelessness is very real here, although some residents do not believe that to be the case. A recently-formed group of people, however, has organized in order to bring it into the community consciousness and support the work of agencies seeking to provide solutions.

The three founding members of the Oxford Homelessness Network all have a concern about those trapped in poverty forced to find outdoor places to sleep and want to help them find an indoor place.

The three all happen to be board members of the Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice but emphasize the OHN is totally separate from that organization. The three are Ann Fuehrer, Karen Francis and Linda Simmons.

The late Father Michael Beatty, a former pastor at St. Mary Church here, was always concerned about poverty issues here and in Cincinnati. He often said people did not believe there is poverty in Oxford.

“There is poverty here. We just keep it well hidden,” Beatty would say.

That is the belief of the founders of the OHN.

“Some community members do not believe that there are people who are homeless in Oxford – they don’t observe street people panhandling. But the Oxford Police Department knows better. They routinely ask people who are encamped on private property to move or arrest individuals who are trespassing on private property in hopes of finding a warm place to sleep,” Francis wrote in a situation analysis last month. “A fully-housed Oxford is a myth.”

She has a history of working with the homeless with ten years volunteering with CityHeart of Dayton, affiliated with Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Dayton. In Oxford, she said, she became involved with OCPJ. Also on the organization’s board is Fuehrer, who is the former director of TOPSS, the local food pantry. They began talking about the issue of homelessness in Oxford and were joined by Simmons, who shared that concern.

Fuehrer had encountered homeless residents while executive director of TOPSS.

“We all have a heart for the unseen and unheard in the community,” Francis said of the trio.

They took part in the Eradicating Systemic Poverty committee of the Presbyterian Church and did a presentation for that group at the Zoom meeting in March. OHN made its official debut May 1 with a presentation hosted by a committee of the Presbyterian Church “Housing on the Continuum: Homelessness, transitional housing and affordable housing in the Oxford community.”

Francis said the first step in their mission is to raise public awareness about homelessness in the area and have been doing that by interviewing people at several locations, including the food pantry, to look at “what is the reality on the ground.”

Next, they want to support the work already being done by agencies such as the Family Resource Center to find solutions for those in need.

“The vision is to eradicate systemic poverty. We want to work with people doing good work to find where the gaps are,” she said. “We want to humanize the problem here. These are real people. Some people have misconceptions – they want (to live outside). Nobody wants to be out of a house in the winter.”

She continued to say many who are homeless are because they lost a job or circumstances forced them into that situation. When that happens, they lose friends or have to change schools which are not good for people.

A national business movement called “equity partners” is another factor contributing to poverty and homelessness. An example has happened here.

“The Miami Mobile Home Park has been sold to equity investors who will ‘clean up’ and raise rents so investors will benefit. (This is a national issue.) These folks will face the trauma of homelessness,” Francis wrote in her situation analysis. “Is this fair or just?”

She pointed to Houston which has made housing part of its city budget to provide a sustainable pool of funds for the work.

“First, we’ve got to acknowledge a problem exists. The community has to care for everybody. There is no sustainable pool for the Family Resource Center for the long term. We are all saying the same thing,” she said.

With that, she pointed to the OHN’s community connections, which include the police department, FRC, TOPSS, TriHealth director of nursing, the Presbyterian ESP committee, Butler County Homelessness and Housing Coalition, Family Promises, the Oxford Free Clinic, Talawanda School District, Oxford housing commission, Miami University school of business and the school of social work and Oxford Tomorrow.

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