Council Orders Plan for Single Homeless People

Sudden action, but will council pay to make it work?

By Andrew Freeze

Cincinnati City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Oct. 8 directing the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Continuum of Care for the Homeless to “immediately address the inadequacies of the current provision of services for single homeless individuals” in the city and develop a comprehensive plan for services.

The ordinance wasn’t on the published agenda for the Oct. 8 meeting, and council passed it without taking public comment. City Council ordinance

But private conversations about the ordinance had taken place for months, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The draft ordinance read that someone would be hired to come in and completely redo the way our services are in Cincinnati/Hamilton County,” the source says. “If that version of the ordinance had passed, it would have completely thrown out the current Continuum of Care and dangerously risk all Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding.”

The Continuum of Care has partnered with the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County since 1996 to plan and implement services and shelter for the homeless. This year the organization received a HUD grant for services to homeless individuals totaling $12.4 million.

The Continuum of Care (CoC) must present its plan to the city by March 31, 2009. The ordinance makes no mention of increased funding in return but the subject has been discussed.

“The city has said, not in the ordinance, that if the CoC comes up with a plan, they (the city) are willing to bring other resources to the table,” the source says.

‘Highest standards’

The goal is a major overhaul, according to Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls.

“The recommended plan must not look like the current shelter and service delivery system,” she says. “We are not seeking to achieve minor reform. Rather, the Continuum of Care should use this opportunity to plan for homeless individuals by starting with a ‘blank slate’ and designing from the ground up a new system that would substantially decrease the number of homeless persons requiring shelter services each night.”

Nineteen community leaders are to create the plan. There will be slots for two city representatives, two county representatives, four executive directors of social-service agencies, four business leaders picked by the Cincinnati Business Committee, four seats for funders of services and three area religious leaders. A facilitator will lead the group.

The source — who is not one of the 19 picked to create the plan — believes the plan could include “a safe haven, more shelter for single women, additional substance-abuse services including housing, housing that would target specific sub-populations, a de-concentration of the Drop Inn Center and a statement of need for more permanent supportive housing.”

The goals are ambitious, at least so far as Qualls envision the plan.

“The plan should result in a national model that guarantees the highest standards of care for the homeless … so that the homeless can successfully move from homeless to homes and become productive members of society once again,” she says.

But what about the money?

“Obviously, we do not have enough resources to handle (the current homeless situation),” the source says. “We have to do the plan, and it is refreshing to hear that they are willing to bring more resources to the table, but we will have to wait and see if they will follow through with the promised resources.”

The need to plan

Since 2000 the National Alliance to End Homelessness has advocated for the creation of 10-year plans to end homelessness, and more than 390 cities and counties across the country have completed or are developing plans. Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says 10-year plans are valuable for several reasons.

“We realized there were more programs but the numbers (of homeless individuals) was still going up,” she says. “We needed improved data about sub-populations, and there was a merging connection between homelessness and jail, welfare and foster care.”

The approach seems to work.

“Many communities have been very successful in reducing homelessness,” Roman says. “Portland has reduced chronic homelessness by 70 percent. Columbus has reduced family homelessness by 48 percent, and both have 10 year plans to end homelessness.

“It is very reasonable to end homelessness. I’m old enough to remember when there was not widespread homelessness. It is very possible, and many communities are well on their way. It is very important to look at strategies around the country that are successful and to implement those in other communities.”

Welcome House of Northern Kentucky has been working on a plan in response to a statewide initiative.

“We are focusing on four areas — the unbanked or those that cannot get a bank account; employment and the gap between wages and what is needed for housing; housing and the costs associated; and finally education, looking at the difficulties of learning when basic needs are not being met,” says Linda Young executive director of Welcome House.

“We are working to present the ideas as community issues and not just homelessness, because then it becomes someone else’s problem. The city’s job is to work on economic development, and that is how we are addressing our plan in order to get city leaders’ buy-in.”

Cincinnati doesn’t have a plan to specifically end homelessness in 10 years but rather the section on homeless services in the city’s consolidated plan already works to address homelessness. Creating a 10 year plan would be creating another plan to end homelessness when there already is one. The city’s consolidated plan refers to all levels or services and shelter, including emergency shelter, transitional shelter and permanent shelter.

“Homelessness is a big problem but not so big we can’t solve it,” Roman says. “Remember: Homelessness is a housing problem.”