The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
The local system that scores and governs federally funded homeless shelters and services in Toledo itself scored low enough last year to jeopardize future funding, a review of federal documents shows.
In 2012, the Toledo-Lucas County “continuum of care,” which essentially refers to Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, scored 83.7 out of a possible 134. That was below the identified funding line of 97, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documents.
The low score comes at a time of recent strife among shelter operators, the Bell administration, and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, which is the quasi-public board overseeing the shelters. Additionally, four federally funded shelters in Toledo revealed Thursday that they are packed to capacity but have been asked to house more people.
The federal report, which is the most recent available, was finished amid annual funding disputes between the shelters and the Bell administration in 2012 and 2013, during which Toledo City Council stepped in and restored cutbacks of federal funding funneled through the city’s neighborhoods department.
Homeless advocate Ken Leslie, who founded Toledo’s annual Tent City event for the homeless, said he is not surprised about the low score and recent capacity troubles for four shelters: Family House, 669 Indiana Ave.; La Posada, 435 Eastern Ave.; St. Paul’s Community Center, 230 13th St., and Beach House Family Shelter, 915 N. Erie St.
“This should come as no surprise. It is the inevitable outcome of Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board and the city of Toledo hijacking the federal process to fit their agenda to close the shelters,” Mr. Leslie said. “For example, even though two independent review panels recommended fully funding the shelters, they were defunded. … I think this clearly refutes the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board and department of neighborhoods’ notion that we are going in the direction HUD wants.”
The city’s Department of Neighborhoods recommended in April, 2012, to cut all federal Community Development Block Grant funds to five shelters and transitional housing agencies: the Aurora Project, Beach House, Bethany House, La Posada, and Family House.
The funds have been a source of tens of thousands of dollars for those service providers.
This year, the department — with recommendations from a separate committee through the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board — again proposed cuts for the federal Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant funding.
The funding dispute has revolved around a federal policy shift away from funding shelters and instead funding “rapid rehousing” of homeless people. Department of Neighborhoods Director Lourdes Santiago said the city is following federal guidelines dictating that change and that the city is not trying to close any shelters.
“The continuum of care is moving toward the rapid-rehousing model right now,” Ms. Santiago said. “No one is on the street and no one has been kicked out [of a shelter.]”
Regarding the low score, she said, “It is saying that the shelters need to be performing at a better level than they have been performing. It is basically because of some of their practices.”
She referred further questions about the low continuum-of-care scores to Tom Bonnington, executive director of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board. He could not be reached Friday for comment. On Thursday, Mr. Bonnington acknowledged that he had asked shelters to accommodate more people even though they were at capacity. He also said there is a backlog of people waiting to be seen by “coordinated assessment counselors” and an even greater backlog to get shelter residents moved into transitional or permanent housing.
Earlier this year — when homeless shelters were fighting proposed cuts to federal funding — many criticized the “centralized intake” process, under which anyone seeking shelter is to call the United Way’s 211 number for placement. The process was enacted by the city and the homelessness board.
Karen Mathison, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Toledo, said the agency would be hiring two people to assist in those face-to-face meetings with homeless people after they are placed in shelters. Those meetings are supposed to occur within a week.
Some residents at Family House, a family shelter in central Toledo, told The Blade they had trouble getting placed in a shelter, had to wait well beyond a week to see a United Way counselor, and now have been waiting months in some cases to be placed elsewhere.
Jeanette Dixon, who has been at Family House with her 2-year-old twin girls and 6-year-old daughter since July 13, said she just recently received approval to look for an apartment.
Mayor Mike Bell said the new system of using United Way’s 211 and a greater emphasis on rehousing has created a “hiccup.”
“I think on rapid rehousing, we need to figure out how to get it done quicker,” Mr. Bell said. “We don’t want to harm anyone, but it’s a matter of following the new directions.”
Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is challenging Mr. Bell for the mayor’s office, said the administration could have prevented some of the problems now faced by the shelters.
“This administration has no consideration or concern and does not even recognize the fact that we have people in compromised positions,” Mr. Collins said. “We have sat by and watched the [homelessness board] increase their operating expenses by threefold. ... We have moved more money off the table for shelters and moved it into the homelessness board operational costs.”
Mr. Collins said federal money that funds some city of Toledo employees should be redirected to shelters.