New Hamilton homeless center in Butler County’s plans, but the site is in a ‘holding pattern’

Service gaps that were underlined last summer by a homeless camp in Hamilton have prompted Butler County officials to seek the creation of a new addiction and mental health crisis center. .

Officials hope to use a Community Development Block Grant to renovate an old forensic center near the Butler County Sheriff’s Office for $150,000 for the project. The project was one of several reviewed by Butler County commissioners on Monday, but Hamilton officials said later that the building might not be available for the project.

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“The building is owned by our utilities right now and we have to kind of see what the future of the building is going be,” Mayor Pat Moeller told the Journal-News on Tuesday afternoon, after commissioners and others had discussed the possibility of renovating the existing building for the project.

“I know the county wants to really move forward with this concept, and the city likes the concept too, but it’s kind of in a holding pattern with this building.”

There is a strong need for such a facility in Hamilton, said Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner, one of the county’s biggest substance abuse providers. A series of resource 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.

“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.”

Gehring said if officials can get this pilot program up and running, a very preliminary cost estimate to operate the center is about $2 million. He predicts insurance will cover about 75 percent of the costs.

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, Gehring, Moeller, Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, 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.

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Gehring said a crisis stabilization center — it would be the first of its kind in the region — would provide a place for police to bring the homeless who may be displaying a psychotic episode or creating a drug-induced disturbance for evaluation, medical intervention and links to other services that can help, “so kind of a front end in lieu of incarceration.”

Carpenter explained the project to her fellow commissioners Monday, but noted CDBG funding isn’t the only funding source the group is looking at.

“My personal view is that I should be getting as large a financial commitment as I can get from each of these organizations,” Carpenter said, noting the mental health board and some Job and Family Services grants are options. “We’re kind of looking at everywhere we can find money to make this work and be self-supporting.”

Rasmus said his agency is willing to help fund the project, but it needs more information before it can make a firm financial commitment. He said officials need to know what kind of certification or licensure might be required to run the operation, whether it would serve both adults and youth and the length of time people would stay at the facility, to mention a few particulars.

“We’re a partner in this, we’re committed to provide some funding for it,” Rasmus told the Journal-News. “It’s just a matter of more specifics before we can get there.”

The CDBG list — it totals $1.1 million in proposed projects — must be submitted to the federal government by mid-March.

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