Weather brings attention to homeless issue in Butler County: What officials are doing

As bitter cold temperatures and heavy snow have returned to the area, Middletown city officials have been the latest to look at strategies to help the homeless issue.

Susan Cohen, administrative services director, told Middletown City Council last week that the city is working with the Butler County Homeless Coalition, trying to be proactive and increase the number of homeless beds and a “triage system” to access services. Officials have faced challenges because some shelters, such as SHALOM in Middletown, did not open this winter because of coronavirus precautions.

More funds have also come to the area. Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $122 million in homeless assistance funding for 295 programs in Ohio.

Two Butler County agencies received funding: Butler County received $571,783; and the YWCA of Hamilton’s Goodman Place received $131,971.

In Middletown, Cohen said the triage system would help first responders to get the person into the most appropriate and effective services. Police Chief David Birk said there are fewer problems in the downtown area but the number of camps has increased. Police continue to break up homeless camps that are found in wooded areas of the city, he said.

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Cohen requested $5,000 for Butler County Regional Transit Authority transportation costs and $10,000 for short-term housing assistance. She said CARES Act funding would be used..

Cohen said veterans who are homeless can access federal Veterans Affairs programs and shelters. She said the city is working with Hope House to use extra beds and wants to utilize some local hotels at a contracted rate to take in families that can’t access group shelters.

Council gave emergency approval for the additional $15,000 in funding for the immediate help for the homeless.

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However, council wanted more information about a proposal to enter an agreement with OneCity for Recovery as part of a one-year, $50,000 pilot program, also using CARES Act funding.

Cohen said social workers from OneCity have been working with the police and fire departments to help the Quick Response Team in responding to overdose cases to guide those residents to treatment and recovery services. She said the city has explored working with the QRT to expand services with the homeless.

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The social workers operate with the QRT for a few hours on Wednesdays.

Cohen said the social workers can help remove barriers, such as obtaining a valid identification, and get people into long-term, stable housing. The pilot program would also help people obtain substance abuse treatment, provide materials, more social worker time in the city who will work with the Community Oriented Policing unit, and access to a hotline for assistance.

“We’re trying to think outside of the box,” Birk said. “They have been very successful. The police don’t have the network/connection contacts for individual placement.”

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