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Columbus' Advocate for Homeless first such position in the country

The city sends more than eight million dollars a year to numerous shelters and assistance programs, including the city-operated Community Shelter Board.

Last year Mayor Coleman and city council president Mike Mentel decided the city needed a new position to monitor that spending and to guide city policy on issues affecting homelessness. Mentel says the new homeless advocate will also serve as a liaison between agencies.

"You cannot rely on just one agency to do this," Mentel says. "You cannot rely on one agency to be able to address another situation. If you have on person to coordinate that, you can maximize each and every individual and organization so they can make the best out of that situation."

That one person is Erika Jones. She's worked in City Hall for seven years, most recently as the mayor's director of policy.

Her new job pays $86,000 a year. She's set to begin work March 17th.

Her position as liaison and advocate for the homeless is the first such position in city government anywhere in the country. She says her first goal is to secure more state and federal funding.

""We need to go out and tell our story, and tell it in new way so we can reach people that Social Services agencies cannot," Jones says. "With the weight of the Mayor's office and city council behind us, I'm confident we can open more doors to get more funding in the future."

Jones says she also plans to develop a city-wide policy for homeless camps. City officials have long struggled with such camps, including several in the downtown area.

Columbus Coalition for the Homeless director Kent Beittel says finding alternatives to camps is fine. But he says laws are often passed without considering whether the homeless have any alternatives.

"The concern is that there is considerable pressure from economic development sources to get people off the land, whether there is an alternative for them or not," Beittel says. "That's what frightens me."

Figures on the number of homeless people in Columbus differ considerably. In a one-day head count last year, the Community Shelter Board found about twelve hundred people living on the street and in temporary shelters. Beittel says he's confident the real number is closer to two thousand.

That said, Beittel says Columbus has a fairly small homeless population compared to other large cities.

He says the Columbus system is good at treating the short side of homelessness, things like getting people food and temporary shelter. The city's weakness, he says, is finding permanent solutions like jobs and health care. He says if Jones can find a way to address those problems, she'll do fine.


The new advocate, Erika Jones leaves her current job as the mayor's policy advisor. She'll be paid $86,000, and begins work March 17th. Steve Brown, WOSU News.


today named a new cabinet member. Coleman appointed Erika Jones Advocate for the Homeless and Social Services. Jones will lobby more state and federal money to combat homelessness in the city. Jones says too often homeless citizens are overlooked.

Jones homeless......

Jones starts March 17th. She formerly currently serves as Director of Policy for Mayor Coleman. Her new job pays 86-thousand dollars annually. Beittel:

Not enough space in shelters, not enough supportive housing, not enough supportive services in the supportive housing, forcing people to live on the land