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What happens to homeless Cincinnatians when winter arrives and shelters can't hold them?

Anti-poverty advocates want Cincinnati to spend $4 million CARES check on winter help for homeless
WCPO mariel homelessness.jpg
Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 18:53:40-04

For the anti-poverty organizations that help and house the homeless in Cincinnati, spring might have been the easy part. Local leaders, including Strategies to End Homelessness president Kevin Finn and Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition director Josh Spring, said Wednesday they’ll need help from the government to continue ensuring unhoused Cincinnatians have safe places to shelter from the cold.

They know exactly how much help, too: $4 million, the remaining portion of the $7.5 million CARES Act check Cincinnati received to tackle homelessness during the pandemic.

Council got the money in April but has spent less than half of it in the intervening months; city administrators have worked in the meantime to develop a plan for the rest.

Finn said the deadline — winter — is coming faster than they realize.

“We’ve been trying to get some of these decisions made about how the dollars would be used since April,” he said Wednesday. “We’re still waiting.”

In March, when the first mass pandemic-related shutdowns swept the United States, many local shelters moved some clients into hotels and motels where they practice social distancing. A smaller number remained in traditional congregate shelter settings, where capacity had been reduced and hygiene protocols had been supercharged.

It’s worked so far, Finn and Spring said, but winter is always a season of higher demand. People who could live on the streets in temperate weather need to go indoors, and places where they traditionally seek informal shelter — libraries, soup kitchens — are limiting capacity, just like everywhere else.

“We may have a situation where people could be freezing to death,” Finn said.

Spring said he wants the city’s plan to include funding for traditional and winter shelters, but also for more rooms at hotels and motels. And he wants it to arrive by Nov. 1, before the worst weather arrives.

“If we have any chance of moving people off the streets before the winter months, we’ve got to move now,” he said. “If we don’t take significant action, this winter could be really horrific.”

So could the following spring, according to Finn.

“We’re staring at a huge cliff in January,” he said. “Right now, there is a large amount of CARES Act funding for eviction prevention through Hamilton County, and there’s also an eviction moratorium. Both of those expire Dec. 31.”