CINCINNATI -- For the operators of homeless shelters in Cincinnati, 2014 marks a year of great promise.
Construction is expected to start on three new shelters in the coming year. That’s nearly $34 million in facilities designed to deliver dramatic improvements in how homeless people are served.
“When these shelters are up and running, there will be enough beds, and they’ll be in a nice environment,” said Roger Howell, president of City Gospel Mission , which operates a faith-based shelter currently located in Over-the-Rhine. “We’re all people, and we all want nice, safe, dignified surroundings.”
The new shelters are among the recommendations in the 2009 Homeless to Homes plan. The plan aims to move people out of homelessness more quickly with targeted services, improved facilities and an increase in special housing units that provide more permanent places to live.
750 People Homeless On Any Given Night
Hamilton County had a total of 7,013 people staying in homeless shelters and places not meant for human habitation in 2012, according to the latest data used by Strategies to End Homelessness , a local nonprofit.
On any given night, roughly 750 people are on the street or in shelters.
The less time people spend as homeless, the easier they are to help, according to the agency.
That’s why homeless shelter operators say it’s important to have services at their shelters to provide the help people need. The new facilities will include space for on-site medical treatment and counseling for substance abuse, for example.
“It’s about improving and strengthening our existing network so that we can really assist people out of homelessness permanently,” said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center , the region’s largest emergency homeless shelter.
The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. , or 3CDC, has been working with Strategies to End Homelessness since 2010 to raise the money needed for the new shelters.
Capital costs include:
• An estimated $12 million for a new Drop Inn Center in Queensgate .
• $8.2 million for a new women’s shelter in Mount Auburn to be operated by the YWCA Greater Cincinnati.
• $13.5 million for a new City Gospel Mission campus in Queensgate.
Those new facilities will be part of a network that includes Lighthouse Youth Services’ new Sheakley Center for Youth in Clifton, a homeless shelter for young adults, and the Talbert House Parkway Center in Camp Washington, which offers substance abuse treatment. Both opened in 2012.
“The shelter providers recognize as hard as they work and as great of a job as they do, it’s limited with their current space and facilities,” said Anastasia Mileham, 3CDC’s vice president of communications.
3CDC expects to begin construction on the new City Gospel Mission campus and shelter for homeless women in the first few months of 2014, Mileham said.
The developer hopes to start construction of the new Drop Inn Center shelter later this year but must first get a series of zoning approvals from the city of Cincinnati.
Shelter Plans Have Been Controversial
All the work to reshape the county’s homeless shelters has been controversial.
It’s unclear whether business owners will mount organized opposition to moving the Drop Inn Center from Over-the-Rhine to the old Butternut Bread factory on West Fifth Street in Queensgate.
But several Queensgate business owners have fought the relocation of City Gospel Mission to York Street and Dalton Avenue, arguing the industrial neighborhood won’t be safe for the homeless people seeking services.
3CDC and City Gospel Mission have won the legal challenges against the new site , however, and 3CDC has raised all but $2 million needed for the $13.5 million project, Mileham said.
In all, 3CDC and Strategies to End Homelessness have raised $28 million for all the facilities, Mileham said.
That includes $5 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, millions of dollars from local foundations such as The P&G Fund, the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation and the Farmer Family Foundation, and $10 million from the city of Cincinnati.
The city funding has been another source of controversy. The bulk of the city’s $10 million pledge comes from federal money that would otherwise be used to help build other types of housing.
Business owners have questioned whether it makes sense to invest in homeless shelters instead of beefing up the city’s market-rate housing selection.
Improved Shelters Alone Can’t Solve Problem
Josh Spring argues the federal money could be better used to build affordable housing to help people move out of homelessness or avoid it completely.
“The lack of affordable housing and good jobs are the primary cause of homelessness,” said Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition .
Spring stressed that homeless shelters in Cincinnati and Hamilton County are doing great work but added, “any shelter would tell you that changes to shelter alone will not end homelessness.”
The Homeless to Homes plan does call for
increases in so-called “transitional” and “permanent supportive housing,” special types of residential units that help people move out of homelessness, noted Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
The plan calls for 1,020 new permanent supportive housing units, where people who live there can get help from social service workers on site.
Already, more than 2,000 people in Hamilton County live in permanent supportive housing – mostly in subsidized individuals homes or apartments scattered throughout the community, Finn said. Strategies to End Homelessness is adding another 100 of those scattered-site units by the end of January, he said.
Another couple hundred site-based permanent supportive housing units are in the works. Such facilities have a number of housing units in one location with social workers on site and monitored entrances to keep the buildings and their residents safe.
The site-based projects under development include the relocated Anna Louise Inn, which will have 43 permanent supportive housing units out of the 85 total planned for the facility. It will be built next to the new homeless women’s shelter in Mount Auburn.
The site was selected after a long and contentious battle between Cincinnati Union Bethel, the facility operator, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which wanted Anna Louise Inn’s current downtown location for a new hotel.
Another permanent supportive housing project in the works is the controversial National Church Residences housing development on Alaska Avenue in Avondale. That will have between 90 and 99 units. Some neighbors there have opposed the project, but NCR has gotten the approvals it needs from the city and Hamilton County to move forward, Finn said.
“There’s not necessarily a perfect site for meeting the needs of homeless people,” Finn said. “But they are all badly needed projects.”
Ultimately, the Homeless to Homes plan aims to improve on the good services that shelter operators already are providing to some of the region’s most needy citizens, Finn said.
“So often when it comes to services for people who are homeless, we sort of become so caught up in protecting what we have that we lose sight of the fact that we could do a better job of helping homeless people,” he said. “This is that something better.”
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may .