Shelter Board: Demand For Emergency Housing Wrecks Budget.

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During the past five months, the Community Shelter Board has spent $194,000 putting up families and individuals in hotel rooms and other temporary shelters. Executive Director Michelle Heritage-Ward predicts the board will spend $230,000 for emergency shelter by the end of the year. Last year, the board spent $5,000 on such programs.

WOSU’s Tom Borgerding talked with Heritage Ward about the spike in demand for emergency shelter.

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Heritage-Ward: We’ve been anticipating that we would see a surge in both families and individuals that would need to seek shelter. It’s a direct result of the recession. Homelessness is a lagging indicator in a down economy. So what we find is that it takes approximately 18 months to two years before we start to see a surge in homelessness. That surge is here now. We’re seeing an alarming increase in the number of families that are needing to seek shelter. Again, a direct impact of the recession.

Borgerding: Has the surge peaked at this point, do you think?

Heritage-Ward: That’s a great question. We don’t know the answer. We don’t if we’re seeing the front edge of this, the middle, or the end. Our concern is that the numbers could maintain at a very high level for an extended period of time. We’re predicting that we’re going to see increased numbers like this for the next couple of years. But, we haven’t seen anything like this in the past. As far back as the shelter board’s history goes, we have not seen this kind of an increase in the past.

Borgerding: What’s this done to the Columbus Shelter Board’s budget?

Heritage-Ward: Well it is a great concern for us. We have had to go to our community partners, our county, our city as well as our corporate partners and out foundation partners. We’ve been asking them all to step up to go ahead and increase the amount we’re able to spend on this.

Borgerding: How much consideration, if any, is being given to building more temporary homeless shelters rather than having to put people up in hotel rooms?

Heritage-Ward: What we don’t want to do in our community is to increase shelters. If you build more shelters then all you’ll have the funds and resources to do is to shelter people. Where we’re really focusing in on preventing a homeless episode and also on housing people as quickly as possible that are having to come into shelter. The real response here is to decrease the number of days that people are in shelter and that allows us to get people housed rapidly and then we don’t have a capacity issue. Really this thing hit us like a tidal wave all at once. And so, what we’ve done is to ask several of our community partners to step up and house more families and more single adults more quickly and that way by housing people we answer that housing crisis versus just sheltering them.

Borgerding: What is the average period of homelessness for a family in Franklin County now.

Heritage-Ward: Its about 30 days.

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