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Published: 9/6/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Commentary

Family values versus the city

BY KEITH BURRIS
BLADE COLUMNIST

There’s a vital, invisible issue in this mayor’s race: homelessness.

For example, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods cut funding for Family House.

Family House, located in an old YMCA on Indiana Avenue, is the second largest family shelter in Ohio and the largest in this part of Ohio. When Mother Nature destroyed an Oklahoma family’s home not so long ago, that family wound up at Family House in Toledo. Why did they come so far? They drove until they found a shelter that would take a whole family, and that had an opening.

Renee Palacios, the director of Family House, explains: “When you have lost everything — job, home, possessions, health insurance, you cling to your family. Most shelters take men. Or women. So a homeless family usually has to split up if they don’t want to sleep in their cars.”

That’s what many homeless families in Toledo do. They park their cars at Walmart or Meijer lots and the family lives that way until they run completely out of money and pride. Most still get their kids to school.

How many Toledo Public School kids are homeless? You might guess 50 to 100. Try 1,565 (a number that has more than doubled in five years).

That family from Oklahoma had seven children, and a mom and dad. The dad had a master’s degree.

Family House has 103 beds and is expanding to 147 thanks to a donation of bunk beds. The need keeps growing. On the day I visited Family House, a young woman, thrown out by her parents, had gone into labor. She waited in the conference room for a ride to the hospital.

Family House serves 700 people per year — 500 are kids. If Family House goes away that baby is living on the street with its mother.

And Family House is at risk. In the last four years the shelter has seen its funding from the Bell administration cut by $97,000 — from $257,000 to $160,000.

Why? The federal government wants to get people into homes and out of shelters. That a fine ideal. But shelters and permanent housing are not mutually exclusive goals.

Yet city government, rigidly interpreting the new mandate, is cutting funding for shelters. Family House has been forced to end its day care program, its efforts to train its clients in home ownership, and its meal program. The next step? Closing rooms.

Yet the city’s director of neighborhoods is unmoved and undeterred. And Mayor Bell stands by her. Lourdes Santiago was a good person to clean up this department. But she is not a homelessness advocate. The department is now hurting the people it is meant to help.

Family House remains open largely thanks to the efforts of mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins. He says the Department of Neighborhoods needs a revamp, and Family House clearly deserves more money, not less.

Family House is able to give its residents a hot meal four nights a month because of four different churches who’ve stepped up. It was completely painted inside by Owens Community College students. It has new signage done by BGSU students. It has a library put together by an Eagle Scout. The computer room is manned by a volunteer. Bread is given each day by Panera Bread and delivered by another volunteer. A car dealer donated a bus.

Family House is a lesson in family and community values. Everyone gets it but city government. We need to talk about this.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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