While homelessness continues to decline in the U.S., according to the latest national estimate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, local agencies say they expect the number of residents needing their services to increase as cold weather approaches.
HUD’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress found the overall number of persons experiencing homelessness in Ohio on a single night in 2016 fell by 17 percent since 2010, the year Opening Doors was launched, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness.
Since 2010, HUD estimates that Ohio experienced a 29 percent reduction among homeless families, a 39 percent drop in veteran homelessness, and a 67 percent decline in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
This national estimate is based upon data reported by approximately 3,000 cities and counties across the nation. Every year on a single night in January, planning agencies called “Continuums of Care” and tens of thousands of volunteers seek to identify the number of individuals and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and in unsheltered settings.
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But in Butler County, those who run the homeless shelters said the lack of high-paying jobs, inadequate affordable housing and the heroin epidemic are creating a need for additional beds and services to get the homeless “back on their feet.”
There are several full-time shelters in the county, and Serving Homeless Alternate Lodging Of Middletown (SHALOM) kicks off its 15th year of assisting the homeless during the winter and early spring on Nov. 27.
Bill Fugate, one of the volunteer coordinators at SHALOM, drives around the area and sees a larger number of people walking the streets who appear to be homeless, he said. Many of their faces are new to Fugate, he said. That makes him believe the need for services at SHALOM may be higher this year than before.
He said 89 guests, 54 men, 32 women and three children, were served last year at Shalom, a church-based ministry that provides homeless a place to sleep and eat. Each church hosts the homeless for one week.
Fugate has seen an increase in what he called “working homeless,” those whose minimum wage jobs can’t pay for housing. He also listed transportation and the lack of insurance for reasons.
“Sometimes it’s the choices they have to make,” he said. “Pay for housing, then they have no car, or pay for a car and they have no housing.”
Three other homeless shelters, Hope House in Middletown and the Haven House and Chosen/Serve City in Hamilton, also are reporting high occupancy rates.
Linda Kimble, executive director of Chosen, said the facility has 40 beds for men, 12 for women. She said the face of homelessness is changing, from older men to younger women. All 12 beds at Chosen at full, and she doesn’t see a vacancy soon. She directs calls to Hope House and homeless shelters in Hamilton County.
As Kimble was talking, the office phone rang. It was a woman from Ross looking for a place to stay.
Bobby Grove III, program director at Haven House, agrees homelessness doesn’t look like it did several years ago. Before, he said, the homeless were single adults who lived on the streets, in camp sites and under bridges. Many of them suffered from alcohol and drug abuse or mental illness.
But after the recession that started eight years ago, there were what he called “transient homeless,” those who lived with family and friends, but had no permanent residence. Once that situation ended, they lived in long-term hotels until their savings were dwindled.
Now they’re homeless, Grove III said.
“We have to interrupt that cycle,” he said. “Get them before their hotel stay. They would have savings and their stay would be shorter.”
There are 122 beds available at Haven House, and Grove III said they have never turned away a resident. They have been known to put beds in the office if needed, he said.
The same is true at Hope House. There are 46 beds for men at Hope House and 46 beds for women and children at the Center for Hope. Many times, through the warmer months, those homeless who can’t abide by the rules at the shelters, live on the streets. But once winter sets in, they seek shelter inside.
The goal at Hope House, and at other shelters, is to prepare the homeless to live independently. To get them to a place where they can “be a benefit to the society and not drawing from that,” said Tim Williams, director of operations.
Pastor Mitchell Foster, executive director of programming at Hope House, said he hopes to equip residents with “tool boxes” of skills so they can leave Hope House and be more successful. Residents receive job training and counseling from local experts, he said.
This week, there were several homeless women sitting inside Chosen.
Valerie Abner, 53, has lived there since Nov. 2. She lived in Minnesota with her son and his girlfriend, but once that relationship ended, Abner ended up back in Hamilton. She said her relatives stole her money and possessions and her disability check of $733 a month isn’t enough to cover living expenses.
“It’s hard to get back in your feet,” said Abner, who has a 10th-grade education. “We don’t want to be homeless. Nobody wants to be homeless. Nobody choices to be homeless.”
For others, like Abner’s 28-year-old daughter, their choices led them to be homeless. Her daughter is addicted to heroin. As Abner talked about her daughter and their lack of a relationship, tears filled her eyes.
“It is difficult,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do.”
She was asked if there was an “easy fix” to reduce homelessness.
“Everyone is here under different circumstances,” she said. “There is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Everybody is unique and different.”
Doug Adkins, Middletown city manager, said almost every city has homelessness in some form. In cities the size of Middletown, the problem becomes “more noticeable” to the public, he said.
“Homeless shelters serve as a compassionate short term answer to a more difficult longer term issue,” Adkins said. “They provide a safe location to get out of the weather and a healthy meal to the most vulnerable in our society. We have found over the years that the shelters cause very few criminal problems for our public safety crews, and may even reduce crime over time. During the foreclosure crisis, we had several house fires in abandoned homes where homeless individuals caught a vacant house on fire trying to stay warm during the winter months. The shelters provide a better, safer alternative to living on the streets.”
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BUTLER COUNTY HOMELESS SHELTERS
Serving Homeless Alternative Lodging Of Middletown (SHALOM) is open from Nov. 27, 2016 through March 12, 2017.
Area churches take turns serving the homeless meals and providing lodging. Intakes of the homeless are taken at 4 p.m. every day at First United Methodist Church, 120 S. Broad St., Middletown. Then a van transports the homeless to the host church.
Call 513-423-7821 for more information.
Nov. 27: First United Methodist
Dec. 4: Yankee Road Church of God
Dec. 11: Open
Dec. 18: Breiel Church of God
Dec. 25: Christ United Methodist/First Christian
Jan. 1: Spring Hill Church of Christ
Jan. 8: Holy Family Parish
Jan. 15: Holy Family Parish
Jan. 22: First Presbyterian/Quest Church
Jan. 29: Crosspointe Church of Christ
Feb. 5: Franklin Church of God
Feb. 12: Open
Feb. 19: Christ United Methodist/First Christian
Feb. 26: First Baptist
March 5: First United Methodist
Haven House is a family crisis homeless shelter that has 122 beds and accepts adults and their children.
Address: 550 High St., Hamilton
Web site: www.havenhouseshelter.org
In 2002, Chosen/Serve City moved permanently into its location at 622 East Ave., and it has room for 40 men and 12 women.
Address: 622 East Ave., Hamilton
Web site: www.servecitychosen.org
Founded in 1989, Hope House Mission is a faith-based ministry, serving homeless men, women and children in Butler, Warren, and surrounding counties in Southwest Ohio. It provides comprehensive programs and services designed to promote long-term, sustainable life transformation.
Address: 34 S. Main St., Middletown
Web site: www.hhmisssion.org
CENTER OF HOPE FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Up to 45 women and children are guests each night in the shelter that is one of the few local shelters to welcome children.
Address: 1300 Girard Ave., Middletown
Phone number: 513-217-5056
Web site: www.hhmission.org