With affordable housing an ongoing challenge in Greater Columbus, the number of homeless people in Columbus and Franklin County emergency shelters has increased by more than 200 people since last year, according to an annual tally.
Among the most affected: families.
“We had 51 more families in shelters this year than last year,” said Michelle Heritage, executive director of the Community Shelter Board, which helped organize the count. “To put that into context, that’s the size of one of our entire shelters. So we had an entire shelter of more families this year – mostly women and children – than the year before.”
Overall, Heritage said it believes the increase in people in shelters is due to the effects of COVID-19 on low-income people. This includes expiring eviction moratoriums and improving unemployment benefits and stimulus checks.
The number of people in shelters on January 27, when the “snapshot” count took place, was 1,426, compared to 1,201 people recorded in 2021, according to data released last month by the Community Shelter Board, a Columbus-based nonprofit group aimed at preventing homelessness.
A total of 1,912 homeless people have been counted this year, including 342 homeless and 144 in transitional housing.
This compares to 155 people in transitional housing in 2021. Last year’s tally did not include those not housed due to the pandemic.
Count offers just a glimpse of the homeless community
More than 3,000 communities nationwide must submit “point-in-time” counts of homeless adults, adolescents, and children to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development each year. The agency then uses the information to examine trends in each community and across the country, Heritage said.
For the Franklin County count, volunteers scoured streets, parking lots, soup kitchens, tent camps and warming centers. In addition, the Community Shelter Board’s Homeless Management Information System counted the number of people housed overnight. This data was combined with counts from service agencies and other places to arrive at the one-day homeless count.
While the Community Shelter Board strives to have a full count each year, Heritage said the agency knows it is unable to register everyone. This was especially true during the pandemic, and this year’s unprotected count was not as full as previous years due to the surge in the omicron variant and volunteers falling ill.
“It’s important for people to know that this is just a kind of reference,” Heritage said. “There are more people in our community who are homeless every day than this count shows.”
What happens now that the homeless count is over?
Now that the count is over, Heritage said the Community Shelter Board is working to provide more supportive housing in Greater Columbus.
The goal is to combine affordable housing and services to help people with physical and mental health issues. Due to the lack of affordable housing in the area, she said it was becoming difficult for the organization to help people get out of shelters and into housing faster.
Marcus Roth, director of communications and development for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), also noted that affordable housing is an issue in Columbus and across the state, and a barrier for homeless people. . The organization sent a proposal to the administration of Governor Mike DeWine regarding the creation of a $308 million one-time investment of Ohio’s American Rescue Plan Act funds in affordable housing.
The proposal recommends the creation of 1,500 permanent supportive housing units and 5,000 affordable rental units; fighting child mortality by investing in safe homes; rehabilitate existing housing to keep older people and people with disabilities in their own homes; and providing homes to help ex-offenders overcome behavioral health issues.
“To really address homelessness in Ohio, we need more housing,” Roth said. “Shelters are a kind of band-aid. We don’t want to denigrate the good work that emergency shelters are doing, but it’s certainly not a long-term solution.”
In addition to housing, Heritage seeks to focus on the mental health and addictions issues homeless people experience, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
She said the city provided $4.9 million in seed funding to the Community Shelter Board to place specialized mental health professionals in all of its shelters and housing developments. The organization is working with Columbus State Community College and the Franklin County Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Health to create a program specifically dedicated to crisis intervention, and Heritage said that she hopes to eventually hire 40 crisis intervention specialists.
“We spend a lot of money as a community to respond with the emergency team and the police to our shelters and our housing estates, and the job of these mental health professionals is to drastically reduce the number of these calls “, she said. .
A plan for the unsheltered population
Meanwhile, the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless hopes to expand its warming center into a year-round drop-in center, director Keith McCormish said.
The center, located inside Broad Street United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus, closed for the season last week. The church, however, will remain open three days a week throughout the summer and fall for the agency’s shower and laundry program, McCormish said.
“Homeless people are really the missing piece of the puzzle right now,” he said. “A lot of people won’t go to shelters for various reasons and we still have to serve them too.”