Published: Thursday, October 11, 2007
A plan to end homelessness
Mahoning County is one of more than 200 communities to adopt a 10-year plan.
YOUNGSTOWN Ending homelessness.
That's the goal of the group that met Wednesday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church's hall. There, the Mahoning County Continuum of Care unveiled its plan to eliminate homelessness from the county within 10 years.
The organization represents about two dozen agencies dedicated to providing residential, mental health, drug treatment and other services to the local homeless population. Streamlining and coordinating those services is a major objective of the plan, said Sister Patricia McNicholas, executive director of the Beatitude House and former chairwoman of the care continuum.
"All those services would come together," she said. "There's a clear plan to move from homelessness to permanent housing with the various help they need."
There were 249 homeless individuals in the Mahoning Valley, according to a study conducted in January, as part of the plan. Of that total, 128 were members of a family with children. About 93 percent of the homeless population, or 232 people, were living in shelters; 7 percent, or 17, were unsheltered, or out on the street.
Serving the diverse needs of this population is part of the challenge for the continuum, said Beverly Hosey, its new chairwoman. An individual in need of emergency shelter might be referred to The Greater Youngstown Turning Point's homeless drop-in shelter.
A woman who's been a victim of domestic violence can be sent to the Beatitude House, she added.
The survey shows that 54 percent of homeless adults were found to have a substance abuse problem; 14 percent had a mental-health problem. Thirty percent were victims of domestic violence.
More than 200 communities have adopted individual plans aimed at stomping out homelessness after a call to action by President Bush in 2002, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The president's objective was to eliminate "chronic homelessness," referring to individuals who are disabled, habitually homeless, or have been homeless for long periods. About 26 percent of Mahoning County's homeless population falls under this label.
The alliance and Mahoning County have taken the objective a step further. Homelessness prevention, through targeting at-risk populations in public institutions such as prisons, foster care and mental-health facilities, is the first step toward ending the problem entirely, said Steven Berg, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Next, communities must help bridge the discrepancy between the high demand for and the supply of low-cost housing.
Berg traveled to Youngstown for the meeting.
"We're excited about what we see local communities doing, what this community's doing," he said. "It's not easy work but it's necessary work."
Berg said his organization rates communities' plans based on factors it has found to be crucial to success in reducing homelessness. Mahoning County's plan rated highly, he said, particularly because the plan including hiring a full-time employee to oversee the community's progress.
That person is Erin Bishop. Bishop coordinated the planning process and authored the plan as a graduate student in public health at Youngstown State University. The 10-month planning process was supported by Youngstown's Community Development Agency and the Mahoning County commissioners.
Several representatives of state and national agencies offered their support to the continuum as well.
Douglas Shelby, of the Cleveland field office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said his agency would assist as much as possible. A representative from the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio and the Ohio Department of Mental Health also pledged their support.
Nancy Voitus, who chaired the continuum during the planning process, said she was proud of the group's effort, but much work lies ahead.
"It feels like the ending but it's really the beginning," she said. "We really want to truly try to end the problem, which is a high goal."