Serve City offers 24-hour intake of county’s homeless

The Serve City residential shelter on East Avenue in Hamilton is one of several programs to they offer to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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The Serve City residential shelter on East Avenue in Hamilton is one of several programs to they offer to serve homeless and low-income individuals and families in the area. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

This new intake schedule allows police, other community partners to bring those in need of shelter overnight

Serve City is now taking on more of the community’s homeless as first responders encounter them during overnight hours.

About 14 months ago, the homeless shelter on East Avenue in Hamilton started an overnight service that’s open 365 days a year. The shelter moved its tables used for meals and set up cots as several people a night sleep in that main room.

Recently, the shelter started taking in people 24 hours a day after conversations with the Hamilton Police Department. Previously, in-take stopped at 3 p.m., which was a gap for the police department as they come across people in need throughout the day and night.

The regular intake hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and police officers and other community partners can bring homeless people that can be assisted by Serve City at any time of the day.

“Our officers are out in the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re encountering folks that need help, that need resources, access to resources, and Serve City has done a great job to meet those needs,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit. “I think a natural extension of that is just making that access available around the clock.”

This overnight shelter service is in addition to the homeless shelter’s quarters which allows up to 52 people ― 40 men and 12 women ― to stay a maximum of 90 days.

“Our shelter is traditionally full,” said Larry Wallace, Serve City board chairman. “With the shelter traditionally being at full capacity over the last two decades, we saw a need for an overnight shelter where we can help our neighbors.”

Year to date, there have been 253 unique individuals that have stayed as an overnight guest at the shelter, which averages about seven people a night. For the homeless shelter, where there’s an average stay of about 50 days (though they can stay up to 90 days), there have been 303 unique individuals since Jan. 1.

There are limitations to those who stay at Serve City, said Executive Director David Hood. He said those who need a detox center wouldn’t be at the homeless shelter as they don’t provide those services.

“It has been my goal since I arrived that we want to be a river, not a pond,” he said. “A pond’s a nice place to visit, but you can only doggy paddle so much before you drown. What we want to create is an environment at Serve City where there are services, momentum, and encouragement that you feel like you’re in an irresistible river moving forward.”

The river analogy is the inspiration behind the Moving Forward program that started in the third quarter of 2021 that revamped its transitional living program, which provided people an opportunity to move from homelessness to housing stability.

“It was a matter of taking pieces that we already had in place and getting a whole lot more intentional about how we utilize them and how we engage people and how we offer services in a way that really helps people to overcome what we call their rocks in the river,” Hood said.

Homelessness is a nationwide problem with big challenges and affecting more people every day, said Hood, a former United Methodist Church pastor. Nationally, there are more than a half-million people homeless on a given night. In Ohio, more than 10,300 homeless people in a night.

Bucheit said the department is engaged with several community partners, including Serve City, New Life Mission Church, the United Way, and Hamilton Community Foundation.

“There are a lot of people (our community partners are) trying to help,” he said. “Trying to consolidate some of those efforts in a coordinated and careful approach will ensure we’re helping people in the best way possible.”

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