Springfield leaders address homelessness as federal aid ends

Local group has served 1,400 people so far this year and approaching winter causes concern.

The Springfield community still has not recovered from a crisis of homelessness that worsened with the COVID pandemic, local leaders said Tuesday at the Springfield City Commission meeting as the city committed funds to help address the issue.

At the onset of COVID, with the likelihood that the coronavirus would spread among the homeless at tragic levels if they were located in congregate housing typically provided as emergency shelter, the city commission allocated money from federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act for non-congregate housing in local hotels.

That initiative was implemented in cities across the country, including Springfield. Federal funding for the program expired this month, so the city stepped in to allocate up to $300,000 address the crisis. The money will be used to transition homeless residents from hotels to traditional shelters.

Assistant Mayor Rob Rue reinforced the seriousness of the homelessness situation and indicated the actions the city is taking reflect the emergency nature of it.

City Manager Bryan Heck said it was clear from the outset of the pandemic the hotel solution was an unsustainable answer to the problem. The city and county worked together to establish a Homelessness Task Force to examine options for addressing the increasing number of people needing shelter.

The emergency provision passed by City Commission on Tuesday will support Sheltered Inc. —formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality Network— as it transitions those it serves away from hotels and back to existing congregate housing, expected to occur by the end of the month.

Those shelters will still not adequately address the need, officials said, and other options are being explored.

Sheltered Inc. Executive Director Elaina Bradley told commissioners the organization has served close to 1,400 individuals in 2022. Those are exclusively people who have come through the emergency shelter program. The organization also provides housing support with rental assistance, transitional and permanent housing, not included in those numbers. The congregate shelters coming back online will be insufficient to meet the need of those leaving the hotels.

“Without these funds, we would have to displace people currently in emergency shelter with nowhere to go,” Bradley said. “We are working with the Housing Task Force and Springfield Community Development staff to identify additional beds so we can serve the families and children in need in the community.”

Bradley indicated Sheltered Inc. in August provided shelter to 176 people, including 52 children. The organization is also experiencing the largest waiting list since it began services with 590 people awaiting help.

With winter approaching, the urgency to find solutions increases. That was on the mind of one community member in attendance at the meeting. Debra McLendon of the Springfield Ohio West End Neighborhood Association expressed concern about a tent city that has been established in the neighborhood and wondered what would happen when the cold weather hits.

Springfield Community Development Director Shannon Meadows cited the Nehemiah Foundation as another community partner active in addressing homelessness, indicating that as it did last year, the organization will coordinate emergency warming locations to provide safe spaces during extreme winter weather. Heck added that the Homelessness Task Force is working on several additional possibilities and expects to present them to the commission in coming weeks.

In other action, commissioners:

- Approved a second submission of an application for body cam systems for use by the Springfield Police Division. Chief Lee Graf said Springfield’s original request was deferred by the state of Ohio. The $440,842 funding will cover all costs associated with the body cam system and include a public information specialist who will respond to and manage requests for camera footage.

- Approved up to $3 million in funding for the neighborhood street improvement project already underway in the city, and an additional $1.5 million for Phase 2 reconstruction of Yellow Springs Street.

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