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Homeless for the Holidays

December 21, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The lucky Ohioans will be spending their holidays at home with family and friends. But hundreds of thousands who are not so lucky have no place to call home.

Last year at this time, about 150,000 Ohioans were homeless. Today, that number is up as much as 10 percent, according to Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio. He calls the situation "alarming."

"Homelessness is on the rise in pretty dramatic ways. At the same time, we're seeing less federal and state resources available to help combat the problem."

The Findlay Hope House for the Homeless is among the shelters seeing an increase in families looking for temporary shelter. Chief executive officer Sammie Rhoades says its waiting list is the longest she's seen.

"It's always shocking when we have our shelter filled, and we have 39 women and 51 children waiting to get in. That's a real heartbreaking situation."

In Columbus, shelters also are full to capacity. As executive director of the Community Shelter Board, Michelle Heritage says spending on overflow shelter has increased 5,000 percent from last year. She fears any more cuts to programs that offer help with basic needs, which she says would hurt people who already are suffering.

"We've got to make sure that everyone is safe, especially over the winter months, and so we need to provide shelter. But truly, the answer of ending homelessness is housing. Shelter doesn't end homelessness. Only housing ends homelessness."

Faith expects homelessness to rise in the next year. He calls it a "lagging indicator," meaning it begins to register only after people have exhausted all other housing options and resources.

"Through this recession, we saw people that doubled up with family and friends and just took other measures to make sure that they had money to pay their rent and stay out of homeless shelters. But that's beginning to change."

Especially disturbing to Faith is the high number of people who need help for the first time. Despite the state's budget problems, he says, he is grateful for the administration's support of critical housing needs. He hopes that commitment continues in future budget decisions.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH