Mayoral hopeful D. Michael Collins said Monday he would restructure both the local agency that governs federally funded homeless shelters in Toledo and the city’s neighborhoods’ department if elected.
The Toledo councilman blasted incumbent Mayor Mike Bell for his role in funding cuts to homeless shelters, and for instead pushing a “rapid rehousing” program for shelter residents.
Mr. Collins said he avoided talking directly with homeless-shelter directors because of a clause in their contracts with the city and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board that some have interpreted as a prohibition against lobbying by city councilmen.
“Shelters are dealing with 1,500 to 3,000 people per year in need,” Mr. Collins said. “Yet, the provider community receives only 42 percent of money sent to Toledo by [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]. The other 58 percent winds up funding positions in the Bell administration with the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board.”
The four federally funded shelters are 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. Mr. Collins also identified Bethany House, which was not funded in 2013.
Mayor Bell and neighborhoods’ department Director Lourdes Santiago could not be reached for comment.
“The community is reaching a point where it has to stop asking ‘how do we give more money to homeless shelters’ and start asking ‘how do we help people from becoming homeless in the first place,’ ” Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell’s spokesman, said. “That is the point of rapid rehousing and the goal of this administration.”
Ms. Santiago told The Blade last week that shelter directors are not prohibited from talking to councilmen, but she was not clear when asked about lobbying.
She also said at the time the city is following federal guidelines dictating a policy shift away from funding shelters and instead funding “rapid rehousing” of homeless people and that the city is not trying to close any shelters.
There have been 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. During both years, shelter directors lobbied councilmen either to restore funding cuts or soften them.
Tom Bonnington, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board — the quasi-public private agency that oversees the shelters — acknowledged last week that he had asked shelter directors to make more room.
“The issues that are being pushed here for the mayoral election have severely twisted the homeless reality in this city and it’s really affecting the people we are trying to serve,” Mr. Bonnington said.
He would not comment on Mr. Collin’s campaign promises or the claim that shelter directors are somehow barred or discouraged from speaking with councilmen.
Mr. Collins said the city is no longer compassionate to “the plight of the unhoused.”
He criticized Mayor Bell for slashing homeless shelter budgets the past two years; submitting spending plans to HUD without Toledo City Council approval, and last week asking the shelters to allow overcrowding with people sleeping on floors or cots.
“Under my administration, there will be a complete change,” Mr. Collins said.
“The department of neighborhoods will cease to exist under its present structure and we will have people in place and let this community know that we are a compassionate city.”
Mr. Collins also said he would work to restore a “no wrong door policy.”
That would allow homeless people to arrive at any appropriate shelter and be helped. Currently, people needing a shelter must call the United Way of Greater Toledo's 211 line to be placed.
The local system that scores and governs the federally funded homeless shelters and services in Toledo itself scored low enough last year to jeopardize future funding.
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 HUD documents.
Subcategories of the scoring process included continuum of care strategic planning, which scored a 32.5 out of a possible 55 and continuum of care performance, which scored a 19.5 out of a possible 34.