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How The City (And You) Can Fight Cincinnati's Homeless Crisis

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The city of Cincinnati last week cleared out a homeless camp near Paul Brown Stadium and reaction on social media was swift.

"These people need help and stability. Maybe expanding work and welfare programs can help," Marsha White wrote on Facebook. "Offer them jobs and in exchange perhaps the city could negotiate using one of the many vacant buildings as temporary housing," wrote Laura Beeman. "Counseling and rehabilitation would be a good start," says Mike Schmidt.

There are still several people living in tents along Third Street in Downtown Cincinnati, and the city is currently weighing its options on how it can help

It could look north to Columbus. In 2004, the city contracted with Maryhaven, a nonprofit that helps the homeless find solutions to their current situations, whether it be due to housing, mental health or addiction issues.

"What really does work is a proactive approach," says Ryan Pickut, Maryhaven's director of clinical services. "Something our city does is strategically place our MCOT team in camps prior to the city having to intervene at all."

MCOT stands for "Maryhaven's Collaborative Outreach Team" and includes people who provide the homeless with resources to receive food, shelter, health, mental health and addiction services. 

Just last year, WOSU in Columbus wrote an extensive piece on how Maryhaven works in the city

That proactive approach allows the city to lessen the blow when they do go in and remove a camp. "We already have a rapport with these individuals; our team is in that camp, and so it's not quite as much of a shock," says Pickut. 

On the day Cincinnati cleared out the camp near Paul Brown Stadium, it brought along a mobile health clinic as well as representatives of Shelterhouse and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church to talk with people about their future plans.Residents were given a week's notice to clear out. 

"Typically, the city of Columbus gives a 30 day notice to do any remediation of a camp," Pickut says. "And the work being done beforehand is critical to helping adjust those individuals." 

That's not to suggest all problems are solved in 30 days. Access to affordable housing is Maryhaven's biggest struggle. "All across Ohio, that is our biggest need," says Thomas Adams, an outreach coordinator at the organization, which helps find housing for roughly 200 people a year in the Columbus area.  

Rushing it creates chaos. "If they don't have any resources, they don't know where to go," Pickut says. "That creates anxiety for them. We know that when that happens the mental health problems increase, the substance abuse problems increase, and that's not helpful to residents as they're trying to problem-solve through this very difficult time." 

How You Can Help

And what about you, the everyday citizen? What can you do to help? 

There are local shelters in need of donations both monetary and otherwise, like the aforementioned Shelterhouse, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Mary Magdalen House and Strategies to End Homelessness to name a few. (The latter two will appear on August 1's Cincinnati Edition to discuss this very topic. Tune in starting at 1 p.m.)

Thomas Adams says the best thing to do is connect homeless with these resources. "When our outreach teams go out, we don't bring food," he says. "We try to give them the resources to where the pantries and shelters are at." 

Reluctant to approach someone? Pickut argues there's still something you can do. "Raise awareness," he says. "We do need more affordable housing in this state, I think everyone can agree with that."