Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil discusses three-phase plan to combat homelessness

CINCINNATI - On any given night 50 to 60 homeless people sleep on county property like the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Sheriff Jim Neil discussed the growing problem of homelessness in the Cincinnati area Thursday. Part of his approach to tackling the problem includes implementing a new three-phase plan which he discussed during a press conference in front of the courthouse.

The first phase of the plan begins Thursday evening. It involves sheriff’s deputies making contact with the homeless population in order to find out more about them as people and what they're going through in their lives.

Part of the first phase includes deputies working with social services to put members of the homeless population in contact with resources that can help them.

After four weeks of outreach, phase two of the plan will start. At that time deputies will find out why a person is still on county property. If there’s not a good reason, they’ll be moved.

Neil did not clarify if that means they'll be arrested or simply removed from the property.

The third phase of the sheriff’s plan is to clean and repair county properties that have been damaged by years of what Neil described as "misuse."

After the third phase is complete, deputies will continue to patrol the areas to ensure people are no longer living there.

Only a few hours after the program had been implemented word had already spread to many of the people who sleep in front of the courthouse and at the county’s justice center. One of those people is Dorina Sherill who spends most of her nights only a few feeet from the courthouse doors.

She hopes the plan put in place by Neil will help her find the services she needs to get back on her feet and under a permanent roof.

"You have no income, you have no roof over your head. I don’t know about a lot of people, but I really need a roof over my head," Sherrill said.

One of the men responsible for helping to put people in touch with the services they’ll need to secure a home is Chico Lockhart, an outreach officer with Downtown Cincinnati Inc.

While he’s hopeful the new program will work, he says it’s hard to work on a problem that sometimes seems incurable.

"It becomes frustrating but for the folks that are on the street it’s more frustrating because you really don’t know how to coordinate through the system so that’s where I come in to help coordinate and get connected with services," Lockhart said.

Development Of The Three-Phase Plan

Five Cincinnati shelters designed to help homeless families in Cincinnati met in August to address the public on the rise in family homelessness in the area.

Bethany House Services, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, Mercy Health at St. John’s, The Salvation Army and the YWCA — collectively known as the Family Housing Partnership — held a press conference at Filson Park in Mount Auburn on Aug. 21.

"Many people will be shocked by the setting of our press conference" said Gwen Finegan, Chair of the Family Housing Partnership. "We chose a local park, one well-loved by homeless children, to highlight the fact that 30 percent of Hamilton County’s homeless people are children, 10 percent under the age of 5. Homeless families are often invisible in our community. It is time to shine a spotlight on this heartbreaking problem."

Partner agencies and families experiencing homelessness joined the Housing Partnership for the conference. Organizers focused on the increase in families needing shelter in Cincinnati and looking into the need for increased funding, volunteerism and community support.

In July 2013, 423 families called for emergency shelter, according to the Housing Partnership. That is a 31 percent increase in calls compared with July 2012.

Only 39 of the families who called were placed in a shelter and 33 other families were referred to Homelessness Prevention services. This means 83 percent of the families who called seeking shelter were not able to receive help.

During the August conference, Bethany House resident Heather Armstrong shared her struggles.

"Homelessness comes so quickly... it's like anybody... you're one paycheck away,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong and her son became homeless after living with family was no longer an option. She's moving into an apartment soon, but would return to the shelter under one condition.

"I want to come back and volunteer my time and my effort," she said.

In addition to volunteers, shelters in the area are in desperate need of donations.

"There are more families coming to the shelters. And donations help us move families out quicker. Which means that we have more capacity to help more people," said Georgine Getty, secretary of Family Housing Partnership.

For information on volunteer and donation opportunities, visit http://ijpc-cincinnati.org/resources/local-3 .

If you are looking to inquire about services provided by the Family Housing Partnership, call (513) 381-SAFE.

9 On Your Side reporters Bryce Anslinger and Lanny Brannock contributed to this report.

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