Muller said food pantries are another information source for gauging the need. The Shared Harvest Foodbank recently shared with the Butler County commissioners that since March 2020 their network of 40 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in the county has served more than 123,530 families, which is almost double those helped the previous year.
Kathy Becker, director of law enforcement and criminal justice for Access Counseling, who has spent her life helping the homeless, said the pandemic has taken its toll.
“We’re seeing increasing numbers but the severity of needs have greatly increased and I think part of that is COVID, I think COVID has manifested mental health symptoms,” Becker said. “I think it’s manifested substance usage, this has been scary and overwhelming for people.”
Compounding things is homeless people who need mental health and substance abuse help couldn’t get it because providers were using video visits and many homeless people don’t have access to technology. She also fears things will start getting worse since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the eviction moratorium on Aug. 26.
“We’re going to shove a whole other group of people potentially onto the street, some of which have never ever experienced homelessness and haven’t developed skills for survival, as fall and winter are coming” Becker said. “And that worries me greatly.”
Butler County qualified for $11.4 million in federal funding to help people who were struggling to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic-induced economic shutdown. The commissioners contracted with Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) in March to manage the program. They have spent $3.4 million helping 790 households.
The commissioners were also awarded almost $75 million in American Rescue Plan funds and have been hearing pitches from a host of entities for spending the money, several target helping the homeless. Last week Hamilton’s Serve City shelter Executive Director David Hood pitched a $7.5 million project and asked the commissioners for $5.1 million. The plan calls for relocating the shelter, a “Moving Forward: Housing Stability Program” and building 30 new low-income housing units.
Also seeking funding are the city of Oxford, the Talawanda Oxford Pantry & Social Services and Family Resource Center are asking for $1.5 million to help them build a one-stop social services facility that includes services for the homeless.
Access Counseling is asking for as much as $900,000 — depending on partnership opportunities and available space — for engagement centers in Hamilton and Middletown to give the homeless access to much-needed services.
Muller said the biggest problem in Butler County is a serious lack of affordable housing the homeless can move into after they are back on their feet. The coalition has a goal of creating 300 units in three years. She said they plan to convene all the “politicos” countywide and people of influence to address the entire system.
“It’s complex and it’s not something that’s going to be easily solved in general,” Muller said. “We’re trying to make sure we have a better system that doesn’t leave people homeless, that doesn’t just provide them a bed today but looks at how we help them attain housing stability over the long term.”