Closing of shelter adds to concerns for Butler County homeless during coronavirus



BUTLER COUNTY — At a time when homeless shelters already are dealing with two hurdles — reduced occupancy due to the coronavirus and a lack of affordable housing — a church-based homeless shelter has decided to not open this season.

Serving Homeless Alternative Housing Of Middletown (SHALOM) has operated for 18 years and provided more than 100 homeless clients lodging, food and social services every year during the winter months. But because of concerns regarding COVID-19, and the inability to house clients safely in area churches, SHALOM won’t open this year.

Last year, SHALOM served more than 130 homeless guests, breaking the record of 129 set during the 2018-2019 season, said Bill Fugate, volunteer coordinator.

Middletown-area churches partner with SHALOM to provide lodging and meals to the homeless from December through early March, typically the coldest months of the year.

Homeless advocates said SHALOM not opening will strain shelters that already are struggling because of the government regulations regarding social distancing and the lack of affordable housing.

Mindy Muller, chairwoman of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition, said the board met this week to discuss plans to move forward without SHALOM’s services and another meeting with homeless service providers will be held Sept. 18.

“This is not a Middletown problem,” she said of homelessness. “It’s a county problem.”

Since SHALOM won’t open, she said, Butler County leaders must make contingency plans to provide the “critical services” to the homeless during the winter.

“We have to fill the gaps,” she said. “How do we pull together across all agencies?”

Tim Williams, director of operations at Hope House, a Middletown homeless shelter, said SHALOM did a “great job of providing love and care” to the homeless.

“You can’t replace that,” Williams said. “This creates a challenge for the community.”

In Hamilton, Bobby Grove, executive director of Haven House, expects to see “an uptick" in homeless looking for shelter after SHALOM closed.

“This will be pretty rough on everybody," he said. “This puts pressure on all of us.”

Grove said those at Haven House and SHALOM worked closely together. When the homeless left SHALOM and they needed more permanent housing, they landed at Haven House, he said.

Kathy Becker, director of law enforcement and criminal justice for Access Counseling, said homelessness in the region “is not going away” and she’s concerned the impact SHALOM may have on shelters and public safety services.

“We need creative solutions,” she said.

Muller said the coalition will seek COVID-19 funding to assist the homeless, but the long-term solution is “decent, safe and sanitary” housing. Because tenants aren’t being evicted due to the coronavirus that’s limiting the amount of affordable housing, she said.

Muller said advocates expected to see a spike in COVID-19 cases in homeless shelters because of the congregate setting. But that hasn’t been true, she said.

“The biggest eye opener,” Muller said.

Instead, the highest hurdle has been adequate housing.

Shelters also are dealing with a reduced number of available beds for their residents. In Middletown, Hope House, which opened a $11.4 million shelter this year, saw its occupancy drop from 50 to 25 beds, Williams said.

Each resident is tested for COVID-19 before they’re registered and so far three have tested positive, he said. Those residents were quarantined until they test negative, he said.

Hope House’s men’s facility, 1001 Grove St., includes a 50-bed emergency shelter, administrative offices, additional counseling and case management offices, meeting spaces, a chapel, a recreation room, a dining room with a commercial kitchen, a private intake office, and a health counseling room for nurses and visiting doctors.

The facility also includes 30 one-bedroom permanent supportive housing apartments designed to help the chronically homeless, Williams said. He said the apartments include counseling and case management offices.





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