Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness by 50 percent in five years

Prevention, affordable housing options are keys

CINCINNATI -- A local nonprofit is working to reduce the homeless population in Hamilton County by 50 percent within five years.

Strategies to End Homelessness said in a progress report released Wednesday that 7,013 people were on the street or served in emergency homeless shelters in 2012. That’s slightly lower than in 2011 but up from the 6,900 total in 2007.

“We’ve avoided what could have been the problem getting significantly worse,” said Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness. “The fact that the problem didn’t get worse through a very bad time for the economy is a good thing.”

The reason it didn’t, Finn said, is because of the emphasis the community placed on prevention services. Over the past three years, Strategies has spent nearly $5 million on homelessness prevention services, helping 7,320 people.

That money has been used to help get individuals and families make a deposit for an apartment or help cover other costs that threaten their short-term stability.

In fact, it costs $787 per person to prevent someone from becoming homeless – far less than the roughly $1,322 it costs to serve a homeless person in an emergency shelter, he said.

Even so, funding for prevention efforts is shrinking, Finn said, and the federal government is requiring communities to funnel money into emergency shelters and other services instead.

At its peak, Strategies spent $2.1 million on homelessness prevention services in 2011. That figure dropped to $1.2 million in 2012 and will drop again to $990,000 this year.

In 2014, Finn expects Strategies will have only $500,000 for prevention services.

“One way we could solve the problem is to be more flexible with money,” Finn said. “If we were able to do more prevention and shift money over toward prevention, we might actually have enough.”

Count Doesn’t Include Those Doubling Up

But it’s important to note that the numbers in the Strategies report do not count people who are doubled up with family members and friends, on the verge of having no place to stay, noted Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

“We would estimate that the largest group of people that are experiencing homelessness are actually bouncing from place to place, and they’re not counted,” Spring said. “That’s a national problem. That comes from the feds.”

Spring argues that the biggest need is more affordable housing in the region – something that neighborhoods often fight when such a development is proposed.

“A lot of that is due to ignorance that becomes fear that becomes, in some cases, hate,” Spring said. “It’s classism. We certainly have to work to undo that ignorance.”

Strategies to End Homelessness gets the bulk of its $15 million in annual funding from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. The nonprofit uses a literal definition of homelessness, meaning a person who lives in a place not meant for human habitation, such as under a bridge or on the streets, or who is staying in an emergency shelter.

What Homelessness Looks Like Here

Of  the 7,013 people who fit that definition in 2012:

• 30 percent are children under the age of 18

• 21 percent are age 12 or younger

• 9 percent are children not accompanied by an adult

• 61 percent are men

• 66 percent are African American

• 31 percent are white

• 3 percent are mixed race

• 13 percent of adults are veterans

• 34 percent of adults suffer from mental illness

Finn said the nonprofit identifies people who are on the verge of homelessness through calls to a hotline known as the Central Access Point, or CAP.

People call the number – (513) 381-SAFE – looking for space in emergency homeless shelters.

Callers who are staying with friends but must leave within a few days, for example, can be helped with prevention services, Finn said.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati is helping to fund prevention services this year, but the money still will be far less than what Strategies has been able to spend in the past, he said.

“Sometimes people focus too much on any one solution to homelessness,” Finn said. “Some people will say it’s only about prevention or it’s only about housing or it’s only about having good shelters. We have to do all three of those things if we’re actually going to reduce homelessness.”

For the full report, click here: https://www.strategiestoendhomelessness.org/

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