Local agencies applaud county grant to fight homelessness

For Ann Ebbert, CEO and president of Cherry Street Mission, the coronavirus pandemic has irrevocably changed the way her organization conducts its business. 

“The answer to all things is COVID,” she said.

The downtown Toledo agency is one that has seen calls for its food, clothing, and temporary housing services increase steadily over the last year as cases rise and those in need become even needier.

“All of the different things that have happened in our society recently have impacted those who are on the margins more significantly than others who have more resources,” Ms. Ebbert said. “For those people, there’s a fine line between successfully navigating their lives and falling into a crack.”

To help and prevent homelessness, Lucas County commissioners voted Tuesday to provide an additional $476,000 in housing assistance to support residents who are experiencing unexpected homelessness during the pandemic, the county announced.

The commissioners approved $376,000 in funding for the Housing Problem Solving program, an initiative of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board. This program employs strategies, like pulling together the resources of existing aid organizations, in an effort to prevent or shorten the duration of homelessness for residents of Lucas County.

In a separate resolution, the commissioners authorized $100,000 for the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board to support its emergency hotel/motel service program. This provides up to 30 days of interim housing for the homeless and seeks to address the increased need that has complicated social-distancing inside shelters.

“We want to make sure that people facing homelessness are connected to the resources they need to find housing quickly instead of being placed on waitlists or entering congregate facilities,” Gary Byers, president of the commissioners, said in a statement.

Michael Hart, executive director of the homelessness board, said that with many area shelters full or on wait lists, the county’s announcement is all about addressing a need that has not waned over the last two years.

The Housing Problem Solving program gets at long-term issues, Mr. Hart explained, while the emergency hotel/motel service gets at short-term issues. Still, both initiatives fall under one objective.

“The goal here is to avoid evictions and ensure that people stay in their houses,” he said.

The Housing Problem Solving program is designed to use fewer resources to provide the necessary support for individuals and families to keep them from experiencing chronic homelessness, the county said. Since launching in August, this program, which is based on similar initiatives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Philadelphia has served nearly 200 people.

To accomplish this goal, Mr. Hart said the county funds will provide for the hiring of navigators to guide citizens in need to the proper resources. This could take the form of legal assistance through the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, or monetary rental assistance through city or county programs.

“The need is there,” Mr. Hart said of the Housing Problem Solving program. “Your situation should not have to become more severe in order for you to get linked with services, so we can do more upstream to be preventative and divert individuals who are present in the homeless system to those other existing resources that are appropriate to support them.”

To bring the various partners that combat the housing crisis in the area together, the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board espouses an idea called the “continuum of care,” on their website. This continuum holds that homeless individuals need an approach to care that takes them through the process from being homeless to fully getting back on their feet again.

The Cherry Street Mission is a member of that continuum. Ms. Ebbert said that the money from the county to the Homelessness Board will have a ripple effect on her organization due to its place in the process of care.

“If you think of the continuum as a big umbrella of all of the network of services, or a road map of different services available,” Ms. Ebbert said, “then Cherry Street is on that road map as a provider, along with Family House and Mom’s House.”

Since its founding in 1947, Cherry Street Mission has provided food, clothing, and temporary housing to those in need. Still, Ms. Ebbert feels that it is the “end condition” of people who leave the mission’s care, and the county money can improve how a place like Cherry Street Mission gets people there.

“When the continuum has appropriate opportunities for those who are homeless, or for those who are close to homeless, then definitely Cherry Street is stronger, as is every other shelter and the end user then remains in that condition of homelessness a shorter amount of time.” Ms. Ebbert said. “People can access our opportunities in a more efficient way and therefore, can process from poverty to health.”

In November, 2020, commissioners approved $100,000 in federal CARES Act funds to the homelessness board for unanticipated costs related to the agency’s response to the pandemic.

The agency also received $10,000 in support through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program in June, 2020, to assist its efforts to provide meals for individuals and families in an isolation and quarantine center.