Family homeless shelter closure leaves void in Butler County

HAMILTON, Ohio -- People in Butler County who help the homeless say the closure of the former St. Rafael family homeless shelter has left a large void in the community.

Mercy Health, owner of St. Rafael’s made the decision to focus only on health care for needy people last year. They had operated a 40-bed facility within eight apartments. Mindy Muller, former chairman of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition and president and CEO of Community Development Professionals, told the Journal-News that the community has felt the loss.

“It left a hole locally, for sure,” Muller said. “We struggle with family shelters in the local community. But, that being said, people (friends and family) are willing to take in families, moms with kids, more readily.”

Mercy spokeswoman Nanette Bentley said they tried to find another entity to take over the shelter but were unsuccessful.

“In 2015, Mercy Health refined the focus of its social services program to do what Mercy Health does best — improve the health of our communities. As part of this change in focus, we attempted, where possible, to transition existing, non-health care services to partnering organizations whose missions are dedicated to those services, such as housing for the homeless,” she said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to transition the emergency housing program at Mercy Health – St. Raphael to a partner organization.”

Bobby Grove, director of Haven House, just down the road on High Street in Hamilton, said theirs is an emergency shelter with 122 beds, whereas people had to apply for beds at St. Rafael. He said the departure has impacted his facility as well.

“They were never a walk-in shelter, but as a transitional living (shelter) it has really put a damper on my case planning we have here in the building for our clients because I no longer have that transitional home for that extra maybe 30 to 90 days,” he said. “So I’m now keeping those people that extra time in my facility , which increases our budget.”

Haven House, unlike most homeless shelters does not rely on governmental assistance or the United Way. The county recently announced it has authorized $628,620 this year for programs that help the homeless, poor and other people needing assistance.

The commissioners signed off on two of three Shelter Plus Care grants totalling $341,614 — funds that come through the federal Housing and Urban Development agency — and a third grant is expected in December for $151,762.

The money pays for housing help for 70 people, most of whom suffer from mental illness. A census taken in January showed there were 133 homeless people in the county, but Muller said that snapshot in time likely doesn’t give a true picture of the actual homeless population.

The shelters don’t just provide a roof over homeless people’s heads and hot meals, they also work with people to help them get jobs and permanent housing. Sharon Bogan, director of the new Family Promise shelter, said it is important to develop a path out of poverty for the homeless.

“It is a program, it’s not just a shelter,” she said. “I spend a lot of time talking with families and making sure this is what they want, because there is some participation required of them. We want them to be able to work with us as we’re helping them develop a plan for themselves.”

Family Promise, which used to be called the Interfaith Hospitality Network, has a network of 14 churches where a maximum of five families spend the night. During the day Bogan said they just last month opened a day center where families can cook, do laundry and other things people do in their homes.

They are renting — and renovated — the the third floor of the Front Street Presbyterian Church for the center and they also have a van so they can transport the families. Bogan said the need for family shelters is great and they get at lease five referrals a week.

The Serve City shelter is like most others and just accommodates adults. Director Linda Kimble said the St. Rafael’s closure hasn’t had a huge effect on her shelter because that is not the population they serve. But the closure has had an impact.

“We get a lot of phone calls for families and I know that that’s a strong need in Butler County for a family shelter,” she said.

Mercy sold the apartments to Sojourner Recovery Services for their pregnant addicts program, the Butler County Motherhood and Maternity Addiction Services Program. The moms program was the brainchild of Commissioner Cindy Carpenter and involves a large coalition of partners.

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO - 9 On Your Side.

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