Nearly 100 downtown area residents and business owners raise safety and other concerns about homelessness issues to Middletown City Council on Tuesday. Residents and business owners want action from the city to protect their homes, investments and livelihoods. City officials and Council said they will be taking measures to address the issue.

Advocates: Homelessness ‘not new problem’ for Middletown

One of their issues: Outside jurisdictions and agencies and taxis dropping off the homeless in Middletown, thus draining city services and adding to the need for public safety.

The perception is that most of the homeless living in the city’s three shelters — Hope House Mission Shelter for Men, Hope House Shelter for Women and Children and Serving Homeless Alternative Lodging Of Middletown (SHALOM) — are from outside the city.

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In the last 12 months, House Hope has served 409 clients at its two centers and 218, or 53 percent, said they’re from outside Middletown, according to Pastor Mitchell Foster, executive director of the center. He said 191 said they’re from Middletown, 83 said they’re from another Butler County community and 135 said they’re from outside the region.

Last year, SHALOM, which operates for four months in the winter, served a record 129 homeless clients, breaking the previous year’s record by 10, said Bill Fugate, volunteer director. Fugate estimated 52 of them, or 40 percent, were from outside Middletown.

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Fugate said many SHALOM clients tell him they end up in Middletown after a failed relationship that started on the Internet. But Fugate believes Middletown is a popular destination for the homeless because of its extensive homeless services.

Fugate attended the Oct. 1 City Council meeting when homelessness downtown was addressed, and he said it was “good to hear” those who spoke had “no issues” with the work of the homeless shelters.

Brandy Slavens of Access Counseling Services estimated there about 200 to 250 homeless living in Middletown with an estimated population of 49,000. She said much of the homeless problem in the city can be traced to lack of affordable housing; the drug epidemic of heroin and methamphetamines; and lack of employment as a result of the previous two factors.

Slavens said some of the homeless reside in buildings and houses without electricity and water, adding they end up living on the streets where they eventually come in contact with downtown business owners and patrons and create problems.

In addition, Slavens said the city bus station downtown is another place for the homeless to congregate because they use public transportation.

“Homelessness is not a new problem for Middletown,” she said, noting Hope House was founded 30 years ago.

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She said it’s not a “downtown problem” but the area is receiving the attention because of the recent focus and revitalization of the city.

Foster said there will “always be a need” for homeless services in the city. He said people need to address the “root issue” of homelessness, including mental health.

“These people didn’t just get dropped off here,” he said. “They have been here all along. They’ve been living in homes, and for different reasons, they ended up on the streets. We need to look at what is triggering that.”

Slavens suggested at the recent City Council meeting a possible solution could be opening a community engagement center where homeless who are released from the shelters in the morning can go for assistance, counseling, and to get out of the elements.

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By relocating them there, they would get off the streets, she said.

While no building has been identified, Slavens said her organization hopes to work with council to develop a day center for the homeless. She suggested the facility could have a washer, dryer, kitchen, showers and offer the homeless an address as they apply for work.

Slavens said a business plan has been developed, and with the right building it could be operational in about 30 days.

In his Oct. 3 email to council, City Manager Doug Adkins said he reached out to Slavens about the day shelter model and said the old Abilities First building adjacent to the new Hope House property on Grove Street is a possible location. He said it’s about 18,000 square feet empty with a parking lot.

Adkins said if the concept was sound and if council had interest, the city possibly partner with Hope House and the Model Group again to utilize that purpose using HOME or CDBG funds to assist in development.

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