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Sheltering Homeless More Complicated Than Just Counting Beds

City workers, police and social workers clear out a camp along Central Parkway, Thursday morning.
Bill Rinehart
City workers, police and social workers clear out a camp along Central Parkway, Thursday morning.

Despite local shelters saying they have room, and a now county-wide order blocking tent cities, some homeless people are still living outdoors in Hamilton County. Advocates say that's because there are homeless people beyond the ones most visible on the streets, and there aren't enough beds to help everyone.

Kevin Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness, an organization that works with shelters, says there is a complicated formula to determine space. "Part of what has to happen every day is sorting out who really needs to be in a shelter bed right now, versus who has other options," he explains.

Those other options include staying with family or friends. Finn says people who would be sleeping outside have the highest priority for a shelter bed.

There are some limits: No shelters in the county will accept a couple who don't have children and let them stay together as a couple. Those convicted of a sex crime also are ineligible. 

A camp under Fort Washington Way was broken up by the city last week. Shelterhouse social workers reported that of the 22 people staying there regularly, 20 were eligible to stay at the shelter. One person had been barred, and another was a registered sex offender and unable to stay at any Hamilton County shelter.

Finn says of those 20 who could have been accepted at a shelter, none went. "My guess would be that either they could not be sheltered as a couple or due to mental health or substance abuse issues."

He says he believes that's behind most of those who say they don't want to be in a shelter. "I tend to regard that as the illness speaking more so than the person making a decision."

Finn says someone going to a shelter is more likely to get the help they need, even if they don't spend the night there. He says two new facilities, Shelterhouse and City Gospel Mission, have been able to increase their services.

For the rest, Finn says, "most of the people in the camps, while they are opting not to go into a shelter, according to our street outreach workers, most of them would accept some sort of permanent housing option if it were offered to them."

Police broke up an encampment Thursday morning and within a couple of hours, another sprang up on Gilbert Avenue at Elsinore. That prompted the prosecutor's office to request and receive a court order blocking homeless encampments everywhere in Hamilton County. A previous order only covered the area south of the Norwood Lateral, and between Interstates 71 and 75.

Finn says what's been spent on attorney fees in the last two weeks would probably provide housing for a lot of people.

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Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio: and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.