The problem of homelessness has been at the front in Akron this past year. Sage Lewis and the Homeless Charity have tussled with city officials over using the property at 15 Broad St. as a campground and community center, essentially, for many chronically homeless. The city has moved to shut down the effort, correctly citing the zoning code and arguing tents are not sufficient. Lewis appears determined to challenge the decision in court. Whatever the final outcome, the discussion has been beneficial in raising the profile of homelessness and the need for the community to respond more effectively.
The Continuum of Care of Summit County has done just that in mobilizing to move those camped at the Lewis property into improved housing conditions. The city already received high marks for addressing homelessness among veterans.
That higher profile is necessary because, as the Ohio Housing Finance Agency reported last week, the number of Ohioans accessing services for the homeless increased in 2017, from 68,491 the previous year to 70,123. Actually, the number has climbed 20 percent since 2012 with the largest increases involving seniors (nearly doubling though still a tiny fraction of the homeless) and young children (the number of homeless infants up 53 percent).
What explains the trend in an expanding economy of lower jobless rates? A large share of the answer resides in higher housing costs, even in Ohio where one of the attractions is supposed to be more affordable places to live.
In its analysis, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency notes that about one-quarter of renters in the state (390,000 households) face a “severe housing cost burden,” spending at least half of their income on rent and utilities. The agency adds that when an unexpected expense surfaces, say, car repairs or a medical bill, stable housing soon can be at risk.
The analysis reminds that in 2017, the Ohio Housing Needs Assessment found just 42 affordable and available rental units per 100 extremely low-income renter households. That translates to a shortage of decent housing.
How might the state help communities? Bill Faith, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, highlighted two promising options in a statement last week. He called for the state to add resources to the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, a proven, voter-mandated tool for expanding affordable housing. He also proposes the state tap surplus funds in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to bolster efforts such as rapid rehousing for vulnerable families.
Research makes clear the crucial role of stable housing in productive lives. That goes especially for children and their schooling. It becomes much more difficult to learn when a child goes without a consistent place to call home. Thus, it is discouraging to see that children in Ohio are more likely to live in poverty than adults. In addition, adults with children account for more than one-third of those accessing homeless services in the state, their numbers increasing from 18,000 in 2012 to 22,000 last year.
Mike DeWine, the governor-elect, rightly wants the state to put a priority on upgrading early education. He recently cited “a moral obligation” to see that disadvantaged children get a better start in life. That won’t happen without more affordable housing and a sustained commitment to reducing homelessness.