Report Finds Homelessness Is Decreasing in Hamilton County and Cincinnati

A newly released report shows that homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County declined in 2014 to levels not seen since 2010.

The report comes from Strategies to End Homelessness, a local leader of 30 homeless service organizations. Using data from the Homeless Management Information System, the non-profit organization said that they saw positive results all around.

The number of people on the streets, which saw a large jump in 2013, returned to 2011 levels. Those staying in emergency shelters also dropped by 7% since 2012, which officials say can be attributed to the increase in people being served by permanent housing programs, which has increased 167% since 2010.

Local leaders also say that this drop is also partially a result of their member organizations’ homeless prevention efforts, which Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, told UrbanCincy in March is one of the most critical factors in reducing homelessness.

Since 2011, these organizations have seen only 10.2% of the people served by their shelter diversion programs later become homeless. Finn says that preventing people from needing a shelter is not only effective, but it saves money as well.

“Homelessness prevention activities work and at a fraction of the cost of assisting after a person is already homeless,” said Finn. “Stopping people from ever needing to enter a homeless shelter just makes sense.”

The report found that men make up 59% of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s homeless population, and that some 66% of those that are homeless are black.

One of the national trends is that women and children make up one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the report found that children are 29% of the area’s homeless – 6% of which are children without adult accompaniment. Furthermore, approximately 15% were found to be veterans.

In all, the number of people on the streets, in shelters, or in transitional programs in all of Hamilton County was 7,810 in 2014.

The Cincinnati area received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $15.4 million earlier this year to combat homelessness. This money has not yet been distributed, but once it does, it will be set aside for non-prevention programs.

Local leaders also have reason to be optimistic due to the ongoing investment in new facilities, through Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, to care for the area’s homeless population.

“In 2015, three improved shelters are opening, significantly improving the quality of services being offered to the homeless in our community,” Finn said. “We are also hoping to expand prevention efforts, so that fewer people will have to experience the trauma of homelessness.”

Cincinnati Scores Slightly Better Than National Average on Sustainable Use of Land

Three percent of the Earth’s surface is developed land, not including farmland. While this may seem like a small percentage, it is the type of development that has created major problems for sustainable living conditions.

With an emphasis on single-family residential developments, auto-oriented planning, and an enormous supply of open land, it has become common knowledge that American cities are more sprawling than their global counterparts. These development patterns, although not entirely confined to the United States, are unique to American planning and have resulted in more sprawl and less sustainable development over the years.

This can plainly be seen by comparing dense European suburbs to American post-WWII sprawling suburbs. Further emphasizing this point today is that while the European Union has identified the percentage of developed land as one of 155 sustainable development indicators in terms of humanity’s ecological footprint, the United States has only noted its land use patterns but not used them as a factor in planning.

A new study, released in March by environmental engineering professors Dr. Giorgos Mountrakis and Dr. George Grekousis at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry, confirms the premise that America’s population growth does in fact consistently result in increasing land consumption, with the results varying between different states and counties where land management policies differ.

Their study used satellite imagery of the contiguous United States to measure the exact amount of developed land (DL) in 2,909 counties, excluding the outliers in the 100 least populated and 100 most populated counties. They then compared imagery from 2001 to the 2000 Census count in order to rank each county on what they call its DL efficiency. To make for more accurate comparisons, they then compared the results of each given county to the 100 counties closest to it in size (50 smaller and 50 larger).

Using this standard measurement, when Hamilton County was measured it came in at 43rd in its peer group. In this study, those counties with higher scores are considered to be more inefficiently developed. This means that Hamilton County came in slightly ahead of the curve when compared to its peers, which had an average rank of 51.

While the study shines a light on population growth and development patterns, it also reveals several socio-economic differences between similarly sized counties. Perhaps the most significant finding was that there seems to be a linear correlation between DL usages and population growth. For example, the researchers found that population growth of a county can be estimated by comparing its current DL usage to its past usage to then produce an estimate within a 95% confidence level. The larger the city gets, the more sprawling it will become at a consistent rate.

The study also confirmed that, compared to other developed countries, the United States is more inefficiently developed and that American cities tend to grow horizontally as population rises instead of vertically.

With this in mind, the report projects that the anticipated 30% population growth, between 2003 and 2030, will result in a 51% increase in land consumption. This equates to 44.5 million acres of land converted to residential and commercial development, and follows a trend of Rural Non-Metropolitan Statistical Areas developing land at nearly twice the rate of urban and suburban Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

One of the commonalities amongst low land consumption MSA counties, the SUNY researchers found, was that they were mostly located in states and cities with stronger planning agencies and urban growth boundaries. Furthermore, nearly all of the cities in these counties also had experienced rapid growth pre-automobile.

With a ranking of 43, Hamilton County comes in slightly better than the national average in its peer group. Elsewhere in Ohio, Clermont County ranked at 20 in its peer group, perhaps due to its makeup of 19th century towns and propensity of farms. And reflecting the dominance of post-war suburban housing, Butler and Warren Counties bring up the back of the pack at 62 and 55, respectively.

The three urban counties in Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, followed the larger trend for Kentucky overall and were found to be very efficient in their land use when compared to their peer groups.

For comparison, the Cincinnati metropolitan region as a whole scored better than those in Seattle, St. Louis, Kansas City, Orlando, Oklahoma City and Charlotte.

When Cincinnati’s population peaked in the mid-1950’s, it had over 500,000 residents within the city limits, while that number stood at just under 300,000 in the 2010 Census. This means that as the urban core continues to revitalize and add population, land that has become underutilized or abandoned will have the potential to be redeveloped, adding to the city and county’s density, and thus further improving its ranking.

The huge demographic shift that is changing the face of America

Between 2000 and 2013, an additional 78 counties throughout the United States joined the rank of those where whites no longer made up a majority of the population. In total there are some 266 counties nation-wide, including Ohio’s three most populous. More from CityLab:

By 2040, the country’s white population will no longer be the majority. But for many regions around the country, this demographic shift has already arrived. A new map created by the Pew Research Center pinpoints the 78 counties in 19 states where, from 2000 to 2013, minorities together outnumbered the white population.

Pew crunched Census numbers from the 2,440 U.S. counties that had more than 10,000 residents in 2013. Whites made up less than half the population in a total of 266 counties. Even though these 266 counties made up only 11 percent of the counties analyzed, they contained 31 percent of the country’s total population, with many of them home to dense urban areas.

What Will It Take for Hamilton County to Solve Its Homelessness Problem?

According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are just over seven thousand homeless people in Cincinnati. To be specific, there were 7,062 people either on the street or in a shelter in 2013.

This number can be a bit misleading since it does not include the many more people who have recently lost their home and are now staying with a family member or friend, or are unable to be counted at all.

The way in which local organizations are handling this situation is different today than it was decades ago. In the past the trend was to provide what experts refer to as site-based units. This has changed over the years to a model more akin to Section 8 housing vouchers, where subsidies are provided for people to go find housing out on the open market.

According to the Strategies to End Homelessness, approximately 97% of the 3,300 people in permanent housing in Cincinnati are in these scattered sites. Part of the reason for the change is due to changing funding priorities, while another large factor is that many people reject the idea of having supportive housing built in their neighborhood.

This has caused problems for local leaders who view the Homeless to Homes plan, which includes the construction of five new shelters, as part of a long-term solution. While the shelters are new and improved, they also typically include an overall reduction in total units provided. So with the total number of units and the number of homeless remaining constant, some are wondering what the ultimate solution is.

Salt Lake City has recently received national praise for their homelessness program where they simply have built and provided housing units for every homeless person in their community. It is a nod to past techniques, but one that appears to be getting results.

While it has received the attention, not everyone is convinced that Salt Lake City’s approach is all that unique, or all that comprehensive.

“It’s about giving people housing,” Kevin Finn, President and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, told UrbanCincy. “If homelessness is the problem, then providing housing is the solution.”

The problem, Finn continued, is that the vast majority of the funds that are provided by the Federal government has strings attached and almost never allows for prevention programs. And with homelessness typically being what Finn calls a short-term crisis, a strong investment in prevention might actually be more effective and economically sustainable.

“Somewhere around 80% of people who become homeless end up getting out of homelessness on their own,” noted Finn. “Unfortunately, we seem to be discouraged from even using the money that could be used for prevention on prevention.”

While Finn acknowledges that simply providing housing to those who truly need it is more effective than anything else, he also is quick to note that taking preventative measures can be far more cost-effective.

In Hamilton County, for example, it costs approximately $3,300 per year to provide supportive housing to someone. At the same time, it costs around $1,300 per year to shelter a person on a temporary basis, and just $1,100 annually to prevent someone from becoming homeless.

“I would agree that Salt Lake City has the right model for those that are homeless, but I would say that prevention is even more effective than that,” Finn emphasized. “The real challenge is to figure out what the right solution is for each individual person.”

Further complicating the prevention approach is its inconsistent funding levels from the Federal government. According to Strategies to End Homelessness, virtually no funding was provided for prevention prior to 2009, but then the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act infused local agencies with around $2.2 million annually over the next three years. At its peak in 2011, it resulted in the prevention of 2,800 people from becoming homeless.

When the stimulus program wound down, those funds went away with it; and those numbers have been in rapid decline ever since. Such inconsistencies make developing long-term plans and strategies next to impossible.

“The issue we struggle with is trying to reduce homelessness when the landscape of the resources is constantly changing,” said Finn. “From 2012 to 2013 homelessness increased in Hamilton County; but it was less than 1%, and considering our resources had been decimated it was a bit of a moral victory.”

Beyond just the funding issues, understanding the problem and recognizing the actual need for each person could yield even greater performance and savings.

First and foremost, Finn says the goal should be to determine who is close to homelessness, but can be prevented from reaching it. From there he says that it is important to figure out who has recently become homeless, and what level of assistance they need – short- or long-term. Not doing so could create the risk of providing the funds for someone to have long-term support, even though short-term support is all that is needed.

In order to tackle each case appropriately, local leaders are developing an early stage approach that is in line with nationally recognized assessment process for determining these details that can often be difficult to uncover.

Further assisting those efforts are the already established programs operating county-wide, including the Central Access Point hotline that allows for people to call and give notification that they are at risk.

Even with all of the challenges, Finn remains optimistic about the future. The City of Cincinnati has recently increased its amount of funding for human services, and has designated reducing homelessness as a priority for those funds. In addition to that, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati is now providing $150,000 per year for prevention efforts.

New data is scheduled to be released in the near future with updated figures on the region’s homeless population. While it is not yet public what those numbers are, it is expected that they will be along a similar trajectory as recent years. The hope, however, is that this trajectory starts to change sooner rather than later.

“Ultimately if we can prevent people from ever coming in, then we can save a lot of money and save that household the trauma of becoming homeless,” Finn concluded.

Feds Provide $15.4M to Combat Homelessness in Hamilton County

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $15.4 million to Strategies to End Homelessness. The money was part of a larger $1.8 billion nationwide distribution to support services for the homeless, and providing housing and emergency shelters to those that have been living on the streets.

The funds for Cincinnati will go to support 16 local agencies, establish a new rapid rehousing for families program, and two new permanent supportive housing projects for the chronically homeless.

Strategies to End Homelessness was established in 2007 by the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to lead a comprehensive system of care amongst 30 non-profit organizations working. The organization says that their goal is to work with these organizations to reduce homelessness 50% in the city and county by 2017.

Pointing to accomplishments like a centralized emergency shelter hotline, homelessness prevention, street outreach, and establishing emergency shelter and housing solutions; leadership says that the community has been able to increase the number of people served in supportive housing programs by 100% since the organization was formed nearly eight years ago.

Kevin Finn, President and CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, explained to UrbanCincy that the HUD funds they just received are extremely limited relative to the need, and are awarded on a competitive basis. In fact, he says that there was no guarantee that the community would get any assistance at all.

Due to the nature of the program, Finn says that the majority of the funds will work as renewal funding for existing programs at existing agency partners.

“This funding is competitively awarded by HUD and was earned by organizations in our community that have successfully helped many people out of homelessness and back to self-sufficiency,” Finn wrote in a prepared statement. “If we are going to reduce homelessness, we must offer successful housing solutions; HUD funded these programs based on their proven results.”

The new rapid rehousing program will work through a partnership with the Family Housing Partnership that includes Interfaith Hospitality Network, Bethany House Services, Salvation Army, and YWCA to build new rehousing capacity that is specifically made available to families. Nationally, HUD has found that 37% of all homeless people belonged to a family, and that 1.6 million children experience homelessness each year.

Finn says that the permanent supportive housing program will work similarly, but instead coordinate with the Talbert House, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, Center for Independent Living Options, Freestore Foodbank, Excel Development and Caracole to determine where new capacity is most needed.

Strategies to End Homelessness will work with these organizations, for both new programs, to sort out exactly how much funding to distribute to each participating organization over the next six to eight months, with the funding from HUD being delivered approximately a year from now.