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City considers agency to aid homeless

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Toledo has hired Matt White of Columbus to conduct a three-part study.

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Toledo officials are considering the creation of a separate authority to coordinate services for the homeless and help ensure that they don t get lost in the system.

A “homeless services authority,” with paid staff, is the likely outcome of a $40,000 study now being conducted of Toledo s homeless problem and its existing services.

The city has hired Matt White of Columbus to conduct a three-part study, in part to meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides federal funding for homeless shelters and feeding centers.

One part of the contract is to create a homeless services authority.

Mr. White worked for Columbus Community Shelter Board from 1997 to 2002 as associate director. That agency, founded in 1986, now has 11 full-time staff. Since then he has been an independent consultant and has performed similar contracts in Oklahoma City and in Los Angeles.

Mr. White, who met with Mayor Jack Ford yesterday, said the agency would help coordinate services, and help ensure that homeless people don t get lost in the system.

“The homeless will have a more cohesive system,” Mr. White said. “There s no wrong door, no dead end.”

The proposed agency would be an independent partnership among the churches, local government, and foundations that provide funding, he said. It would start with a staff of at least one person.

Exactly how the authority would be funded and its members appointed still has to be worked out, Mr. White said. He said a task force already in place likely would provide some initial members of the authority. The task force has 32 members from local government, social service agencies, corporations, and charitable organizations.

Mayor Ford said an authority is long overdue for Toledo.

“If it s something that will eliminate duplication, fragmentation, and gaps, yes. It s something we should have done 20 years ago,” the mayor said yesterday after meeting with Mr. White.

Mr. Ford, who has backed consolidations of other social service and city government agencies, said there are many other successful local coordinating councils, such as in mental health and criminal justice.

Ken Leslie, a longtime homeless advocate who is on the task force, said an authority has a lot of potential to give a voice to the homeless groups and coordinate services. Still, he said, providers are “wary.”

“I think everybody will be concerned with who has that power, and will they use it to further the cause of the homeless or political agendas,” Mr. Leslie said.

In 2003, city officials identified 1,029 homeless individuals who received shelter or other attention. Of those, 234 were “chronically homeless” and living unsheltered.

Mr. White is conducting a needs assessment and is expected to issue a draft report in February. The assessment will analyze the number of homeless people and recommend ways to improve programs for them.

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