Butler County officials at all levels are trying to tackle the homeless issue that most say is pervasive, but a recent survey of Hamilton businesses says the problem isn’t crippling operations.
Homelessness has become a hot topic this summer as Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, has been working to establish an Emergency Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Center.
As part of his due diligence and with the help of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates, he surveyed about 5,000 business people about the homeless issue. He only received 22 responses and 31.8% said they have no problems at all with the homeless and a dozen were below 50 on the 100 point scale gauging the severity of the problem.
Bates told the Journal-News he was surprised anyone responded at all — the first time they sent out the survey no one replied.
“Even though it’s a problem for businesses it’s also not in their toolbox to solve,” Bates said. “I think that they look at it as something that somebody needs to deal with, but that’s not their expertise and I think that’s part of the low response to the survey.”
The bulk of the survey delved into the specifics of the issue, including main problems, cost, possible benefits like hiring opportunities and possible solutions. Harassing and or scaring customers, using and in some cases “trashing” the restrooms, setting up camps near outdoor dining areas and a host of other complaints.
Bates said he hears the concerns often and “the bigger concern with people is mental health, if you have someone who is obviously having some sort of crisis, the average business owner doesn’t know how to deal with that.”
“There are homeless people who are not frightening and don’t scare business away. But those are not the ones that unfortunately we deal with so often,” Bates said. “So when you deal with homeless people who are scaring customers away from businesses doors, that’s a challenge. When you have homeless people that are defecating on people’s front steps so they have to clean it before they can open their business, that’s a challenge.”
The survey also asked if participants were willing to help with the issue. Tyler McCleary, director of restaurant operations at Tano Bistro, was one of six who said he’ll pitch in, and a it is good way is to provide jobs.
“I’m willing to give my time, thoughts, energy, anything I can do to help I’m willing to do so,” he said. “Tano and I were at a job fair for people at Serve City a couple months ago and we’re willing to do that all the time. I think that there are quality people out there, just because people are homeless doesn’t mean they aren’t talented, they just fell on hard times.”
Casey Thompson, proprietor of Beyoutiful Salon, said she has been involved in this issue and also wants to help. She said she knows there aren’t enough resources and while “some of of them are comfortable living the life they live” more can be done for those who want help.
She suggested an informational pamphlet or handout with available resources would be good.
“Provide them with some information, I would take a guess that a lot of them probably don’t have resources to make a phone call, get on a laptop, those sorts of things,” she said. “If we could readily have something available to hand them that would be a great start and something that could easily be provided to all the businesses.”
A meeting was convened last week by state Sen. George Lang to discuss homelessness and how to help the business community deal with the issue.
“Right now there’s a renaissance going on in the city of Hamilton, I applaud the leaders and Middletown is really starting to build their business base up again. I only want to see us put that on steroids, to see the business community in Butler County flourish and prosper…,” he said. “I want to see that continue on, now if we can help the homeless out in the process that’s a bonus, I hope we can figure out how to do that. But my prime directive is focused on the business community.”
Rasmus, Commissioner Cindy Carpenter and Tammi Ector, executive director of Serve City in Hamilton and chair of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition, argued for more “capacity” to give the homeless shelter and wrap around services to stabilize them.
Ector warned everyone about the consequences of inaction and told a little story. She said she and a colleague were leaving Spooky Nook recently and “a young man, no shirt, tatted up, no shoes on, just clearly mentally ill, on something, in need of stabilization ran through swinging his shirt over his head” she then yelled loudly mimicking the sound he made.
“If I seem like I’m being extra, it’s truth. Spooky Nook is the second largest sports complex in the United States let one of those little girls who come for a soccer tournament ... encounter that young man who needs to be stabilized,” she said. “We’ll make the national news and it’ll shut Spooky Nook down and all this great business revitalization here in Hamilton will be negatively impacted.”