April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Ohio’s homeless rate rose 7.3% last year, but Lorain shelter sees fewer clients

LORAIN — Homelessness is down 5.7 percent nationally since 2007, but up 24.1 percent in Ohio, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ohio had the fourth highest increase nationally with 2,713 more homeless people. Homelessness increased in Ohio by 7.3 percent from last year.

The numbers are based on a one-night count of homeless people nationwide conducted every two years by homeless advocates who report the numbers to HUD. In January, there were 633,782 homeless people in the U.S. with Ohio accounting for 2.2 percent, according to the Dec. 10 report.

The report didn’t have numbers for Lorain County, but at the Haven Center shelter at 1536 E. 30th St., the annual numbers have dropped slightly since 2007. In 2007, 543 clients were served, compared with 459 last year, a 13.6 percent decrease, according to the Neighborhood Alliance, the nonprofit group that runs the shelter.

However, Connie Osborn, Alliance CEO and president, said the shelter is seeing more families this year. Osborn said 123 families and 246 children have stayed at the shelter through November. Osborn attributed the statewide increase in homelessness to high unemployment and a lack of affordable housing.

Osborn said some clients have part-time or full-time jobs, but are earning low wages and living paycheck to paycheck making it difficult for them to raise enough money for monthly rent and a security deposit.

“Many people these days are one paycheck away from possibly being homeless,” she said. “It’s, unfortunately, not that uncommon these days.”

While Lorain County’s unemployment rate of 7.6 percent in October was lower than the national rate of 7.9 percent, it remains far higher than the rate of about 6 percent before the Great Recession.

Many clients at the shelter are unemployed, including Cynthia who didn’t want to give her last name. Cynthia, 55, said Sunday she’s been at the shelter since Nov. 22 after losing her job as a housekeeper a couple of years ago. Her unemployment benefits expired in March and she said she could no longer afford rent and had problems with her landlord in Elyria who she said didn’t make repairs.

Cynthia said she looks for work every day and is hoping to find a job soon. Cynthia is staying at the shelter with her brother Tim. He said he couldn’t make enough money in his seasonal job as an ice cream vendor.

Cynthia said she and her brother have applied to county agencies for utility assistance if they can get an apartment through the Lorain Metropolitan Housing Authority, but said they haven’t gotten much help. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘No money, no money, no money,’ ” she said.

Tim blamed high gas prices, the county’s high foreclosure rate and a lack of public transportation for exacerbating the bad economy. Rather than focus on deficit reduction, Cynthia and Tim said they’d like to see the federal government spend money to create infrastructure jobs to create a ripple effect on the economy.

“I’m all for more jobs,” Cynthia said. “I need to get back to work.”

Until they get back on their feet, Osborn said the alliance tries to provide stability for clients and help them transition to housing as well as developing case plans that include referrals for work, job training, GED classes and alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs. The Alliance — which also provides meals to the elderly and prenatal care — works with the Nord Center to help mentally ill clients. There is a high rate of addiction, alcoholism and mental illness among chronically homeless people, which HUD defines as those who have been continuously homeless for a year or more.

The shelter conducts Breathalyzer and drug tests on clients suspected of alcohol or drug use to remain alcohol- and drug-free. Families are housed in separate rooms from single clients and clients are assigned chores to keep the shelter clean and well maintained.

Mark Mays, a shelter monitor hired in October 2011, said he likes working with clients because it fits in with his Christian beliefs of showing compassion and mercy. Clients usually stay for about 30 days, and Mays said shelter staff try to make them comfortable.

“A lot of times when people come here, they don’t know what to expect until they really get to know the staff and the routine,” he said. “Who wants to be homeless or displaced?”

Homelessness in America

There were 633,782 homeless people in America on a single night in January, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Among the findings:

  • While homelessness is down 5.7 percent nationally since 2007, it has increased 24.1 percent in Ohio since 2007 and Ohio had the fourth largest increase among states.
  • Of the 633,782 counted homeless in January, 62 percent were single and 38 percent were part of homeless families.
  • About 62 percent of those counted were in shelters or transitional housing with 38 percent unsheltered.
  • Since 2007, homelessness among individuals has decreased 6.8 percent and 3.7 percent among families while the number of unsheltered homeless people has decreased 13.1 percent.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.