‘Hunger is growing’ as resources tighten throughout area

Hope House Mission opened an $11.4 million men's homeless shelter last year on Grove Street in Middletown. Leaders there say they're taking steps to keep residents and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic as homelessness continues to grow. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Hope House Mission opened an $11.4 million men's homeless shelter last year on Grove Street in Middletown. Leaders there say they're taking steps to keep residents and staff safe during the coronavirus pandemic as homelessness continues to grow. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Sufficient homeless shelter beds are available in the county, but there’s need for stable housing

Hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a big problem in Butler County until recently. But with pandemic benefits disappearing, the number of families needing food assistance has climbed steadily in recent months.

Meanwhile, the number of available beds to provide emergency shelter to the homeless also is sufficient. But there’s a problem with that, too, officials say: People who are stabilizing themselves so they can live independently after homelessness are having trouble in the county finding affordable places to live.

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“From our perspective, hunger is growing,” said David Hood, executive director of Serve City in Hamilton, a homeless and warming shelter and food pantry. “There were significant resources made available during COVID that have started to disappear.”

Here’s how numbers have climbed at the food pantry:

  • August, 372 families served;
  • September, 477 families;
  • October, 522 families.

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Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Serve City on East Avenue in Hamilton offers several programs to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. The have a food pantry open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Mindy Muller, chairwoman of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition, said there are enough beds to serve the homeless. But apartments with affordable rents are lacking.

“We’re seeing that there’s a lot of support right now for people to get some help in getting stably housed,” Muller said, a sentiment that finds agreement from Hood. “There was less turnover in housing because people were remaining at homes that might normally have been turned over, and there’s just a real shortage of places for people to live.”

Hope House, SHALOM adjust during COVID-19

Hope House, which operates a men’s and women’s homeless shelters in Middletown, and a church-based homeless program have adjusted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The men’s center, an $11.4 million facility that opened last year, redesigned its dorms by placing panels and shower curtains between beds to reduce the risks of clients spreading the virus, said Tim Williams, director of operations.

Those changes, Williams said, will allow the homeless shelter to house up to 40 men.

Hope House tests every resident for COVID-19 and they’re placed in quarantine until the test results are known, Williams said. He said 100% of the male residents and 80% of the females are fully vaccinated.

The center also has started a program that deals with drug and alcohol addictions and mental health by pairing the residents with full-time medical and mental experts.

“We hope to stop the cravings so they won’t use again,” Williams said. “Our goal is to help those who are homeless and steer them in a new direction so they don’t need our services.”

Williams said the two centers see an increase for homeless services during extreme hot and cold weather conditions. He expects the need to grow this winter.

“It’s not going away,” he said of homelessness. “The best thing we can do is address their needs, provide a safe place and help them transform their lives.”

For the last 19 years, the goal of Serving Homeless Alternate Lodging of Middletown had a similar goal, said Bill Fugate, volunteer coordinator.

But due to health concerns for clients and volunteers, SHALOM hasn’t offered nightly beds and meals for the homeless in local churches for the last two years. The program typically started in December and ran through March.

When the pandemic prevented SHALOM from physically housing the homeless it felt led to continue serving the less fortunate in a completely different manner, Fugate said.

Volunteers have served more than 2,000 weekly meals to the homeless from a food trailer in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church, SHALOM’s headquarters.

“It is unfortunate that this many are in need of food to survive in our community but we are grateful and thankful for this wonderful opportunity to be a blessing to so many,” Fugate said. “If not for these meals, they may do things to get their food, maybe not legal. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They don’t think that far ahead.”

SHALOM also continues to assist the homeless who are led to the organization by providing financial assistance with obtaining birth certificates and state identification cards, clothing, coats, shoes, sleeping bags, tents, blankets, and hygiene items.

Fugate was asked why the homeless population appears to be growing, not only in Middletown, but throughout the county and country.

“I don’t have the answer. I wish I did,” he said.

He sees some of the same faces, and new ones every week at the food trailer. Many of the homeless, who prefer not to live in shelters due to their restrictions, reside in tents in the woods and in vacant buildings.

Cottages will create affordable homes in Oxford

One thing Muller finds hope in are a dozen proposed cottages on 2.1 acres along Hester Road in Oxford. The cottages, to be built for $1.2 million with a variety of funding sources, will rent for about $519 a month, including utilities and WiFi.

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A dozen affordable cottages like these should break ground in the spring, providing stable housing for families. PROVIDED

A dozen affordable cottages like these should break ground in the spring, providing stable housing for families. PROVIDED
Caption
A dozen affordable cottages like these should break ground in the spring, providing stable housing for families. PROVIDED

“We’re trying to create a community that people would want to live in and feel comfortable in, where they can get to know their neighbors,” she said.

Muller said the project’s proponents have worked closely with the city and have had many community conversations about the project.

“We want to make sure it’s good for the entire community and not just push our way through,” Muller said.

She and others have not approached other areas, such as Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield and West Chester about similar projects, she said.

“We’d love to have more of these cottage communities, but our goal was to get one up that people can see and feel and experience, and get an idea what it looks like,” Muller said.


BUTLER COUNTY HOMELESS SHELTERS/PROGRAMS

HAVEN HOUSE

Address: 550 High St., Hamilton

Phone number: 513-863-8866

HOPE HOUSE MEN’S MISSION

Address: 1001 Grove St., Middletown

Phone number: 513-424-4673

HOPE HOUSE WOMEN’S SHELTER

Address: Unpublished due to safety concerns for female residents

Phone: 513-217-5056

SERVE CITY

Address: 622 East Ave., Hamilton

Phone number: 513-737-8900

SHALOM (Serving Homeless Alternative Lodging Of Middletown)

Address: 120 S Broad Street, Middletown

Phone number: 513-423-7821

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