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Could city of Cincinnati's funding delay push hundreds of homeless people back onto the streets Jan. 1?

'January 1st is approaching very, very quickly'
Homeless camp will move east and early
Posted at 5:54 PM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-19 19:17:07-05

CINCINNATI — Hundreds of homeless people now staying in local hotels could be back on the streets Jan. 1 unless the city of Cincinnati moves quickly to transfer federal funds to service providers.

Homeless shelter operators first approached Cincinnati City Council in September with a plan to expand winter shelter operations because of the growing number of people experiencing homelessness and living outside.

RELATED: As pandemic rages, this winter could be worst in years for homelessness

But the city has yet to transfer roughly $4 million in federal grant money specifically aimed at helping people who are homeless, said Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, which allocates funding to homeless service providers in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Hamilton County has given homeless shelter operators CARES Act funds to help with the increased need this winter, but those funds expire at the end of this month, Finn said. The federal grant money that the city has available can be used into 2021.

“So come January 1, if we don’t have access to these Emergency Solutions Grant dollars from the city, we’re potentially going to be turning homeless people onto the street,” Finn said. “The very real possibility is that, happy New Year, all kinds of homeless people are going to be pushed out onto the street.”

COLUMN: Making sure homeless people count
Kevin Finn

A spokesperson for the city administration told WCPO 9 that city officials were working to send a draft agreement to Strategies to End Homelessness on Friday.

“The city worked with the service providers and Hamilton County to sequence funding so that City funding is used and available after the December 30th deadline for the County funds,” an administration official responded in an email. “Once the city receives STEH sign-off, we can execute an amendment for the remaining allocation by the end of the year to address the additional capacity needed for the winter months.”

Finn said he doesn’t understand what has taken so long.

“We’re not talking about dollars the city could use for something else,” he said. “They’re supposed to be used to help homeless people during the pandemic, and the last time I checked, the pandemic is now.”

Homeless service providers currently have 150 people staying in hotel rooms that otherwise would be living outside, said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. That’s in addition to the people who are staying in the shelters, many of which have had to reduce their capacity to maintain social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Over the next few days, there will be 50 more moving in, so 200 people total,” Spring said. “If we reach December 30th and this contract hasn’t been sent over, then all of the warm, safe, indoor shelter for 200 people at that point doesn’t have any specific or guaranteed funding source, which is certainly a scary thought.”

The nonprofit organizations that operate shelters are worried about the delay, said Peg Dierkers, chief operations officer of Bethany House Services, the region’s largest family homeless shelter.

BHS_Fairmount_shelter.JPG
The Bethany House Services Fairmount shelter was quiet on Sept. 9, 2020.

“Business operations go a little slower over this holiday season that we’re about to start, so we’re very concerned about that,” she said. “The city has not committed to a date yet that those contracts will be in place, and January 1st is approaching very, very quickly.”

Spring said he doesn’t think anyone at the city wants to see people forced back onto the streets during the coldest months of the year.

“We’ve worked closely with the city staff. It would seem that they care about this,” Spring said. “But it shouldn’t take three months to allocate funds that are only meant to serve people experiencing homelessness or to prevent homelessness and for the purpose of keeping people warm and safe during a cold winter that comes every year.”

Dierkers added that on Friday, Bethany House was sheltering a total of 166 people, and 114 of those were children under the age of 18.

“The need,” she said, “is great.”

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.