Funding for Hunger and Homelessness Under Threat

Recent Increase in Demand for Services Show the Need for Additional Hunger and Homeless Funding in Ohio

 Activists are preparing for massive cuts to hunger and homeless programs in Ohio and from the federal government over the next two years.  The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio kicked off a campaign to showcase effective programs in Ohio in an effort to demonstrate their value and need for continued funding.  These include Ohio’s largest shelter, 2100 Lakeside operated by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and Ohio’s largest food distribution center in the Cleveland Foodbank.

“Northeast Ohio never recovered from the 2001 downturn, and we are struggling every day find space in church basements to provide a warm space to everyone looking for shelter,” said Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Brian Davis.

Focusing attention on hunger and homelessness issues is especially important in Ohio as legislators begin conversations on how to balance a gaping hole in the state budget that’s estimated at $8 billion. The USDA’s recent report on household food security indicated that more than one in seven Ohioans faced a daily risk of hunger. Ohio ranks 9th highest of all states on the measure of food insecurity.

Homelessness is considered a lagging indicator of a troubled economy, meaning that people exhaust all other options before accessing shelters for help, says Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO). “Across the state, the numbers tell the story of increasing hardship among those who’ve lost their jobs, are in foreclosure, or have unexpected medical bills,” says Faith. 

In Franklin County, the Community Shelter Board will spend 3,000 percent more this year than last on overflow costs for family shelters. In the Miami Valley, the two primary family and single adult shelters saw a 35 percent and 27 percent respective increase in occupancy in the first two months of November 2010, compared to the same period last year. And in Cuyahoga County in September alone, 275 men who had no previous experience with homelessness, entered the county’s largest shelter.

The Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week coincides with the launch of the 20th anniversary of the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, a flexible funding source that responds to growing homeless numbers as well as to the critical housing needs of Ohio’s military veterans, senior citizens, people with disabilities and working families.

            “The priority of the OHTF has always been to direct dedicated funds to those most in need,” noted Faith. “This is a unique funding source that becomes even more important when social service safety net programs are cut to the bone.”   

The OHTF began in 1990 when voters approved a constitutional amendment making housing a public purpose. Following years of advocacy from COHHIO and member groups, the Ohio legislature approved in 2004-2005 an increase in the recordation fees to create a permanent dedicated funding stream for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Since then the OHTF has distributed more than $369 million to a diverse universe of projects, including adult and youth shelters, affordable housing development projects, home repair, rehab and energy savings projects, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio, funds to enable home ownership, support services to help those in need stay in their homes, and service coordination for seniors, among other projects. “These funds have been the safety net needed for more than a million people in every county in our state, with half or more going to projects in rural counties,” said Faith.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless published in December 2010.