DARKE COUNTY - According to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless people in Ohio increased by 7.3 percent in the last year.
In a press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Shaun Donovan said, “We must redouble our efforts to target our resources more effectively to help those at greatest risk. As our nation’s economic recovery takes hold, we will make certain that our homeless veterans and those living on our streets find stable housing so they can get on their path to recovery.”
Five states accounted for nearly half of the nation’s 2012 homeless population, which were California (20.7 percent), New York (11 percent) Florida (8.7 percent), Texas (5.4 percent) and Georgia (3.2 percent).
Midwest Regional Administrator Antonio R. Riley added in the release, “Behind every number is a family or an individual living in our shelter system or even on our streets. While HUD and our local partners are working to reduce and eliminate homelessness, there are too many people struggling to find an affordable home to call their own.”
Melissa Sparks, Darke County Community Action Partnership Assistant Director, has seen the the rise with her own eyes.
“Based on the services we provide in our agency, we do feel like we’ve seen an increase in county homelessness for 2012,” she said.
Winter is the peak season for homeless service providers, so Ohio social service centers are busy providing food, shelter and clothing for the less fortunate.
The Darke County Community Action Partnership provides rental and housing assistance programs, personal case assistance and job training to help prevent homelessness. From Jan. to Dec. 20, the Community Action Partnership served 101 individuals from 66 households.
While homeless rates have risen, according to Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services the number of unemployed has decreased by 79,000 people in the past 12 months.
“The overall unemployment rate dropped in Ohio but we’re still seeing a lot of families struggle,” Sparks said.
Sparks said that people often enter the the program due to a variety of factors like transportation issues and housing payment concerns, and because of their local relationships the organization is able to provide timely help.
“One of the great things in Darke County is that we’re well known in the community,” Sparks said. “Often times the referrals will come from the landlord, since we already have a good rapport.”
Individuals also have trouble finding work due to criminal records, which eliminates a large percentage of jobs available to them.
Sparks said that not every homeless situation is alike and many have employment or financial assistance, but its simply not enough to provide for their families.
“Many of the people that do come to our shelter have a source of income, but its not enough to maintain their housing,” Sparks aid. “So they’re picking and choosing between food and rent.”
The Community Action Partnership promotes self-sufficiency throughout its programs and doubles as a job site for career training providing retail, custodial and culinary work.
“We try to make sure families become self sufficient,” Sparks said.
While the homeless population is rising in Ohio, many social programs are being cut due to budgetary restrictions, and local low-income services are taking some of the biggest hits.
For instance, the 2012 United States Budget reduced funding for the Community Development Block Grant program which granted cities and counties funding for housing projects and economic development in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
And budgetary restrictions have caused local programs to cease some of their services.
“The biggest impact we saw was to our senior services. We’re no longer going to be providing services to seniors due to reimbursement of funding not adequate to fund the program,” Sparks said.
The Partnership is now allocating services to the Dayton Senior Resource Connection which provides home-delivered meals, adult care and other senior programs.
Next January, the Darke County Continuum of Care will conduct a one-night survey of homeless populations to assess the current social landscape. These counters are then reported to HUD as part of state and local grand populations, which helps influence the amount of grant funding for the area.