Gated Communities for the Homeless

Shelters are full and the underpasses sealed off

The summer months typically find fewer people staying at Cincinnati’s homeless shelters – but not this year.

The usual seasonal decline can sometimes be attributed to more seasonal jobs, more housing available and people sleeping outside because of the nicer weather.

But this year the numbers at many of Cincinnati’s shelters look more like their winter numbers. This worries the people who work with homeless people.

The demand for help at St. Francis/St. Joseph Catholic Worker House is unusually high, according to Carl Fields, house manager.

“We have 16 beds for men, and August is usually our slowest month; but we have been staying full all summer,” he says.

The Catholic Worker House normally has three or four beds available throughout the summer, but not in 2008, Fields says.

The Drop Inn Center has also seen a steady rise in the number of “bed nights.”

“Our bed-nights count was up 63 percent in June and 60 percent in July, compared to our 2007 numbers,” says Pat Clifford, executive director.

Georgine Getty, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, says homeless people have been telling her, “There is a month to a month-and-a-half wait list to get into the family shelters.”

Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in Over-the-Rhine, serves a mid-morning meal. There, too, the need for help has been on the rise.

“Our numbers have doubled from two years ago,” says Sister Mary Beth Peters, executive director. “We now serve 14,000 meals, a month, which is about 500 meals a day.”

The snapshot in Cincinnati doesn’t match claims last month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that homeless has significantly dropped across the country.

Clifford, Fields and Peters say the reason for the high numbers could be the weak economy, a lack of seasonal jobs and more people falling into poverty.

With Cincinnati’s shelters full most nights, there are still people who sleep outside. In Cincinnati, there is no legal place for people to sleep if they don’t have a home, according to Sgt. Steve Saunders, liaison officer for Cincinnati Police District One. The designation of legal campgrounds for homeless people might help, he says.

“If you can’t build beds, give (homeless people) a legal place to sleep,” Saunders says.

Compounding the fact that it’s illegal to sleep outside, it’s also getting harder to find shelter outdoors. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has begun installing a series of five fences under various highway overpasses to keep people from camping there.

Chico Lockhart, outreach coordinator for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., says he still sees lots of people sleeping outside and under bridges. He and other case managers work to get them into shelter or housing (see “A Sweeping Change,” page 1).

“We want to connect people to services, not put up fences,” Saunders says.

But the fences are going up nonetheless. A statement from ODOT says the state is spending $15,000 to put up the fences “for the safety of those who sleep outside.”

With shelters full, soup kitchens serving twice as many meals and laws prohibiting people from sleeping outside, Cincinnati is seeing a new kind of housing development: gated communities for the homeless – gated to keep them out.

-Andrew Freeze