Hamilton officials question recovery center if homelessness isn’t addressed

City manager wants to bring county’s hospitals into the equation.

Butler County is considering moving forward on a crisis stabilization unit at the former county Care Facility, but Hamilton officials questioned last week if it’s the right place.

They also questioned if this crisis stabilization unit would help the city’s rising homeless population, many of whom struggle with addiction and mental health issues.

Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board Executive Director Scott Rasmus visited Hamilton City Council on Wednesday, providing them with information related to the planned Butler County Crisis Stabilization Unit ― a center that has a short-term residential program for mental health and addiction services ― and their desire to use the former Care Facility on Princeton Road.

After the presentation, council member Carla Fiehrer asked where the homeless citizens fit in with the proposed stabilization unit. Rasmus said while the homeless population of the county has not been factored in, “We will need to make sure the system has capacity for the homeless that need to be addressed through this facility.”

However, the homeless population is not in the purview of the MHARS Board, per state law.

Fiehrer pointed out that much of the homeless population does struggle with addiction and mental health issues, which is in the MHARS Board’s purview. Rasmus agreed, saying estimates range widely from 40-to-50% up to 70-to-75% of the homeless population do have issues with addiction and mental health.

“I’m committed to a countywide solution to the homeless problem, including mental health, and I’m willing to support that in any way I can,” said Rasmus, adding there need to be resources at day and overnight shelters.

The discussion eventually led to the operations of the facility, which Rasmus would be similar to the evidence-based models he and others either visited, including two in North Carolina, or talked with operators. But city officials weren’t backing down from answers to how this type of facility could help with the homeless population.

Smith questioned why the hospitals around the county haven’t been brought into the discussion, especially if the MHARS Board will have to go to taxpayers for a levy to help pay for the operations. Rasmus said they spent a couple of years reviewing and studying the best practices of running a stabilization unit.

Smith still questioned the location. Hamilton may be the county seat, but the Care Facility, which is near the border of Fairfield Twp., is difficult to walk to, and Smith believes Interstate 75 is the easiest collection point from all parts of Butler County.

“It’s another facility in Hamilton, and if (the homeless) are discharged, there’s no guarantee they’ll be returning to where they came from originally,” said Smith. “I’m just struggling to understand why Hamilton would be the best location.”

But the county’s hospitals would be a better option, he said, especially if the MHARS Board will seek a new, replacement, or renewal of its levy, which Rasmus said they would need to do in order to operate a crisis stabilization unit. Rasmus said the current levy brings in around $11 million a year and if they ask taxpayers for more money, they’d need $7 million to $8 million more.

Prorated out, Smith said over 10 years, that would be $190 million, and “that’s just a lot of money, especially if a direct portion of that is not going to mitigate a lot of the homeless issues that we’re seeing.”

Smith said he believes if there’s a subsidy to the hospitals, “it would be worth bringing them to the table and just asking the question” as they already have the infrastructure to address crisis stabilization.

“There’s an economy of scale because they have a workforce, they have check-in, and they have a lot of those services already in place,” he said. “Crisis stabilization to me is really about time, but you’re asking everyone from Butler County to drive into Hamilton ... people in Middletown would be closer, people in West Chester would be closer, people in Fairfield would be closer (to a hospital) as opposed to the time it would take to transport people into Hamilton.”

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