Butler County leaders get heated over possible homeless drop-off center

The Butler County commissioners were at odds Monday over a $150,000 allocation of Community Development Block Grant money for a proposed homeless addiction and mental health crisis drop-off center.

The money was part of the annual allotment of federal funds to help pay for programs and projects that help low- to moderate-income residents and communities. There are $1.1 million in projects on the list this year.

After a heated discussion, commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers agreed to slot the money for a new parking lot for the Butler County Care Facility while they investigate the homeless drop-off center further.

Rogers asked that the item to help renovate a facility near the county nursing home be removed from the CDBG plan because he had little information about the plan. He noted the commissioners can amend the CDBG plan later to reinstate the project. Plus, he said they have deferred the parking lot once already.

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“We need to make certain we have a plan that’s going to work, that doesn’t have a negative impact on the county (nursing) home, that it doesn’t impact the area that it’s going in,” Dixon said. “I’m not sure it belongs where they want to put it and I’m not sure they have the funding stream in place to maintain it.”

Rogers told the Journal-News he had heard part of the plan was to take some people to the county nursing home, which concerns him.

“If there is a medical problem, I thought I heard them say that they were going to take them over to the Care Facility,” he said. “But they don’t know if it would be covered under Medicare. We’re having a financial problem over there anyway. What’s the possibility of added costs?”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter voted against putting the money into the parking lot.

“If you’re both saying no, then we can table it, everybody can go about their business, the homeless people can stay on the sidewalks and the police departments can keep picking them up.” she said.

She admitted, however, that details of the crisis drop-off center project are still preliminary.

“We are just seeking the funds so that a building can be secured,” she said. “And that’s step one. If that can’t happen there’s no sense in hiring employees or putting a program together or assigning agencies to work in it, ‘cause right now it’s kind of in thin air.”

Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner, one of the county’s biggest substance abuse providers, is one of those leading the effort. He said a very preliminary cost estimate to run the program is about $1.2 million, and Medicaid would likely cover 75 percent of the cost.

He said the plan is to renovate a wing in the Transitional Living Inc. building on Princeton Road to fit 12 to 16 beds. Rough renovation estimates are around $250,000. The Mental Health and Addiction Services Board has offered $150,000 as well, but Gehring said he isn’t certain if the board has voted on it yet.

Gehring said the Care Facility could become involved if someone who is taken to the “triage” center needs physical rehabilitation services. The homeless would only remain in the drop-off center three to five days to get them stabilized with their mental health and addiction issues, then arrangements would be made for further assistance.

There is a strong need for such a facility in Hamilton, Gehring told the Journal-News previously. A series of social service resource fairs targeted to get the homeless help last summer underscored that need, he said.

“There were people coming in right off the streets looking for services that needed immediate medical care. That’s when we realized there are some serious service gaps in the community right now,” Gehring said.

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“If somebody is arrested, they are going to the jail, and then the jail is picking up the medical tabs — that’s not Medicaid billable that’s funded by taxpayers. But if we are able to do an intervention like this it saves the county funds.”

The homeless population living in a tent city known as “The Hill” across the CSX railroad tracks behind the Hamilton Plaza on Dixie Highway was in the spotlight last summer after some business owners asked the city to remove the trespassers. Butler County and a variety of service organizations offered resource fairs for the homeless in the tent camp, helping them find shelter, medical treatment and jobs.

As an offshoot of that effort, a group of county leaders, Carpenter, Gehring, Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller, Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services board (MHARS) Executive Director Scott Rasmus and others have been meeting to find ways to bridge the service gaps.

The group originally considered renovating an old forensic center near the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, but Moeller told the Journal-News previously there were issues with the location.

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