Attacking Homelessness in Sidney and Shelby County

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

Bob Baird’s recent letter to the editor (published Friday, Jan. 13) addressed the issue of homelessness in Shelby County. In that letter, he questioned the disposition of the funds raised during the Salvation Army’s 1990 “Campaign of Hope.”

When the campaign ended in May 1991, the campaign had raised $1.5 million, falling short of the goal of $1.9 million. At the outset of the campaign, the Salvation Army had indicated that they would use the proceeds to build a larger kitchen, a day care center, and an emergency shelter for the homeless.

Following the campaign, the kitchen at the Salvation Army’s Buckeye Avenue headquarters was enlarged. Although no longer used, the day care center was also constructed.

Now, nearly a quarter century later, the residual campaign funds remain on deposit in New York. It is those funds that were to have been used to establish an emergency shelter for the homeless. The funds were never used for that purpose.

It is those very funds that have long been a bone of contention with administrators of local social service agencies who attempt to serve those who may have benefited from the shelter. Those funds have also been a cause of frustration for donors to the campaign as well as former Salvation Army board members (as evidenced by Mr. Baird’s letter).

Raising funds for a specific purpose and not utilizing them for that purpose is morally and potentially legally problematic. Doing so without offering an explanation to those who worked so hard to raise the funds may be acceptable in some locales. It is not an acceptable practice in Shelby County.

Numerous meetings have been held, telephone calls made, letters and email messages exchanged, all discussing the matter with Salvation Army’s Southwest Ohio Northern Kentucky Divisional Commander, Major Larry Ashcraft and General Secretary Major Timothy Lyle. Despite that considerable effort, the matter remains unresolved.

When the Homelessness Forum was convened on Jan. 22, 2014, representatives of a broad cross section of the community were in attendance (including Major Ashcraft and Major Lyle). The first assignment for the approximately 125 participants in attendance was to develop a definition of homelessness for this community.

Although it took some time, a definition was agreed upon. Homelessness was defined as “individuals/family units desiring shelter, but lacking the adequate resources to accommodate their immediate housing needs.”

It was also determined that an organization that was well-suited to act as a clearing house to assist those needing help did not exist. It was recommended that a multi-functional one-stop shop led by a non-profit agency be established.

As of Jan. 1, 2017 (with thanks to the leadership of the Shelby County United Way and funding partners including the City of Sidney, the Shelby County Commissioners, the Sidney-Shelby County Health Department, Shelby County Job and Family Services, Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities and the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services.) Shelby County 2-1-1 was launched to provide that one-stop referral service.

One of the questions those attending the forum were asked to answer was: “What do you believe is the depth of the problem in Shelby County?” The responses ranged from “a low number of people” to “approximately 1 percent”of the population. There were a variety of other answers, but the fact was, no one knew. Unfortunately, we still don’t.

It was the general feeling of those in attendance that there were homeless people in Shelby County. There were anecdotes of people living in tents along the river, groups living under bridges, and individuals living in abandoned houses. No one could, however, provide data to support the contention that either there was or wasn’t a homeless problem in the community.

It was hoped that as a result of the forum, statistical information could be developed that would be helpful in determining the extent of the problem. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development by law requires the Continuum of Care Program to annually conduct a Point-in-Time count.

The Point-in-Time count is designed to reflect the number of sheltered and un-sheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. The fact is, the local Point-in-Time count has repeatedly reflected that there are no homeless in Shelby County.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

See tomorrow’s editorial page for the second half of this column.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

See tomorrow’s editorial page for the second half of this column.