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Report: Addressing the needs of Ohio's homeless during COVID-19 crisis will cost nearly $42M

'The immediate needs are clear'
Posted: 3:38 PM, Mar 25, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-25 19:44:39-04
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Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions here.

It will cost nearly $42 million to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in Ohio during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report released Wednesday by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

Called “Double Jeopardy: The Coronavirus & Homelessness in Ohio,” the report estimates that money would be enough to cover the needs of people experiencing homelessness for three months. The cost would jump to more than $108 million over six months, the report estimates.

“A stay-at-home order is meaningless if your home is a tent in the woods or a large shelter,” said Barbara Poppe, the author of the report and the former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “The immediate needs are clear.”

Those needs in Ohio include additional shelter capacity, hotel rooms for isolation and quarantine, guidance on how to connect the homeless assistance system with the medical response to COVID-19 and funds to help people quickly exit homelessness, Poppe said during an online news conference Wednesday.

Most of the nearly $42 million is needed for emergency beds in hotels for people who are currently living outside or in places unfit for habitation, for hotels rooms to reduce crowding at shelters and allow for social distancing, and for quarantine and isolation beds, according to the report.

Of the total, roughly $10 million would be used to help people avoid homelessness or shorten their stays in shelters and to help people find more permanent housing more quickly.

Although the total cost sounds daunting, it’s doable, said Bill Faith, the coalition’s executive director. Funds from the federal relief package could be used to help, he said, as could funding from the Emergency Solutions Grant Program.

Faith said cities should receive additional Community Development Block Grant dollars that also could be used for this purpose but added that the state must “step up and play a bigger role.”

The coalition will ask state lawmakers to allocate $20 million immediately to address the problem, Faith said, but added that “even $10 million would be a help.”

“Like Gov. DeWine said, we have a big rainy day fund, and it is raining,” Faith said. “We need to figure out how to deploy resources.”

The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio already has created the Pandemic Emergency Fund with $500,000 from its own savings to provide immediate relief to agencies across the state, he said. The fund got contributions from other donors and now has a balance of more than $660,000, according to the coalition. It will start issuing checks Thursday to local agencies that provide support to people who are homeless.

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Josh Spring, at microphone, speaks at a news conference March 24, 2020, while others wait at a safe distance.

Faith’s group released the report less than 24 hours after the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition held a news conference pleading for help in Hamilton County.

RELATED: $1.2M needed to help Hamilton County’s homeless during COVID-19 crisis

Josh Spring, the local coalition’s executive director, said it will cost about $1.2 million to cover the cost of 1,000 hotel rooms needed to house people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton County. He first sounded the alarm about the need for those rooms in a March 19 letter to Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials.

It’s impossible for people who are homeless to practice the social distancing that’s recommended in the crowded shelters where they’re staying, Spring said.

Hamilton County’s four family homeless shelters already have moved 50 families into hotel rooms big enough to accommodate parents and their children. But the rooms are expensive, and the nonprofits that serve homeless families have limited financial resources.

Plus, local organizations that provide assistance are expecting even more individuals and families to become homeless in the weeks and months ahead because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s a fear statewide, Faith said, making it critically important to beef up the state’s homelessness prevention strategies in the coming months.

“I believe we can defeat this silent enemy by pulling together across sectors,” Poppe said. “To be successful, an all-hands-on-deck approach is required.”

The goal, she said, is to reduce the spread of the virus, save lives and make Ohio healthier for everyone.

To help pay for hotel rooms for Hamilton County families experiencing homelessness, donate online at the Strategies to End Homelessness website.

To help pay for hotel rooms for individual men and women in Hamilton County who are homeless, donate to the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund through United Way of Greater Cincinnati or the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. You must specify that you want the money used to help people who are homeless.

A copy of the new report is available online. You can contribute to the statewide COHHIO Pandemic Emergency Fund online, too.

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. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.