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Published: 6/22/2009

Toledo homeless shelters report significant increase in residents

BY NEENA SATIJA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Angie Lashley, Sparrow's Nest director, says she and her staff have housed as many as 75 women in the 52-bed shelter. Angie Lashley, Sparrow's Nest director, says she and her staff have housed as many as 75 women in the 52-bed shelter.
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TaMesha Frisch, 26, has stayed at Sparrow's Nest on and off for about three years and has never seen it this crowded. TaMesha Frisch, 26, has stayed at Sparrow's Nest on and off for about three years and has never seen it this crowded.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

A couple of weeks ago, Sparrow's Nest Director Angie Lashley arrived at the homeless shelter for women to find that it was nearly 20 percent over capacity.

Her response: "Where has everybody gone?"

The little red brick house on a residential street corner had become accustomed to housing more than 70 women each night in a shelter with 52 beds.

Ms. Lashley had attributed the sudden drop in visitors to the weather; typically, she said, "The shelter empties out during the summer."


But a few days later, the Toledo shelter was back to nearly 40 percent over capacity. On a recent night, 75 women slept in the shelter. That's the highest number in its history, which goes back to the 1990s.

Ms. Lashley has worked at Sparrow's Nest since 2007, when at least a few beds were empty most nights. Now, every night the shelter's staff members lay out cots and mats in the shelter's spacious TV rooms and open hallways.

TaMesha Frisch, 26, arrived at the shelter a few days ago, but has stayed at Sparrow's Nest on and off for about three years. She's never seen the shelter this crowded.

"Beds are crazy," she said.

Ms. Frisch, a recovering addict, sleeps on a couch in one of the TV rooms. She plans to stay at the shelter for three to six months until she can save some money and get an apartment.

Staff members always call nearby shelters to see if they can pick up the overflow. But most of those shelters are facing similar difficulties.

"The problem's getting worse and worse, and I don't know when it's going to turn around," said Paula Lewis, executive director of the family shelter Beach House. In recent months, the area shelter has had to turn away as many as 62 people in one night.

People often cycle in and out of homeless shelters.

"We've had women return 12, 14, 18 times. It's not shocking to them anymore. It's like, 'Well, I'm back,'•" Ms. Lashley said.

But case workers at both shelters have watched more and more new residents react to their situations with shock and disbelief.

"I've talked to several guests who are just like, 'I can't believe that I'm at a point in my life where I'm actually living in a homeless shelter,' and I keep hearing that more and more," Ms. Lashley said.

Many such guests had been evicted from their homes, or were staying with friends and family and were asked to leave. Currently, 84 percent of Sparrow's Nest residents are in such a situation.

Keenan Jones, 36, is one such guest at Beach House.

About a year ago, Mr. Jones lost his job at a Popeye's restaurant during a round of layoffs there. He lost his apartment soon afterward.

He has been staying at Beach House for several weeks with his 15-year-old son.



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