Sometimes-heated debate over proposed Butler County homeless center will continue tomorrow

Community members and Butler County officials who have been trying to help the region’s homeless will meet with the county commissioners Thursday to discuss possibly funding a crisis drop-off center near the Butler County Care Facility.

Last month, commissioners were at odds over a $150,000 allocation of Community Development Block Grant money for a proposed homeless addiction and mental health crisis drop-off center.

After a heated discussion, commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers agreed to slot the money for a new parking lot for the Butler County Care Facility because they said they didn’t have enough information about the proposal to fund it, and there are concerns about the proposed location.

They requested a work session to meet with those who have been working with Commissioner Cindy Carpenter on a homeless plan.

RELATED: Butler County leaders get heated over possible homeless drop-off center

“We need to make certain we have a plan that’s going to work, that doesn’t have a negative impact on the county (nursing) home, that it doesn’t impact the area that it’s going in,” Dixon said.

“I’m not sure it belongs where they want to put it, and I’m not sure they have the funding stream in place to maintain it.”

Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner, one of the county’s biggest substance abuse service providers, is one of those leading the effort. He said a preliminary cost estimate to run the program is about $1.3 million, and he said Medicaid would likely cover about $1.1 million.

He said the plan is to renovate a wing in the Transitional Living Inc. building on Princeton Road, next to the Butler County Board of Elections campus where the county nursing home is located, to fit 16 beds. Early estimates indicate renovations would cost $300,000.

The rest of the renovation money could come from the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board . Executive Director Scott Rasmus said his board hasn’t voted on the issue yet because it needs more details.

“My board endorses the concept,” he said. “It’s just there’s a lot of specifics that need to be identified, such as the population specifically, that’ll be using it, length of stay, certifications, billings, what kind of billings would occur, that can effect funding, these kinds of things, staffing.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he is concerned some of the people might be taken to the cash-strapped Care Facility for medical attention and Medicaid might not cover those expenses. Gehring said the Care Facility could become involved if someone who is taken to the “triage” center needs physical rehabilitation services.

The homeless would only remain in the drop-off center three to five days as caregivers stabilize their mental health and addiction issues, then arrangements would be made for further assistance, officials said.

The homeless population living in a tent city known as “The Hill” across the CSX railroad tracks behind the Hamilton Plaza on Dixie Highway was in the spotlight last summer after some business owners asked the city to remove the trespassers. Butler County and a variety of service organizations offered resource fairs for the homeless in the tent camp, helping them find shelter, medical treatment, jobs and access to other social services.

Carpenter told the Journal-News that 180 people attended the first fair and 80 attended the next. She said those events underscored that resources need to be coordinated.

MORE: New Hamilton homeless center in Butler County’s plans, but the site is in a ‘holding pattern’

“Our community work group has worked together to try to deal with issues surrounding public perception and issues of concern to the police department and the other issues,” she said.

“This is our own project, we did not duplicate another county’s because we felt that we went directly to the source and we are crafting a solution to our very specific problem in Butler County.”

Gehring said there have been multiple groups tackling the issue since last summer. For the meeting today, they have invited several county departments, politicians such as State Rep. Candace Keller and Sen. Bill Coley, Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller, Fairfield Twp. trustees — the proposed site is in the township — the sheriff and others.

Carpenter said the public is also welcome. The meeting is at 9:30 a.m. in the commissioner’s chambers on the second floor of the Government Services Center in Hamilton.

About the Author