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An Agency That Aids Homeless Families Gets Creative During Pandemic

Eric Ward

The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati says the number of local families experiencing homelessness is up during the pandemic, and getting people into permanent housing hasn't been easy. Part of the agency's model is for religious groups to temporarily house IHNGN clients in their places of worship, but COVID-19 has halted that."Families do get turned away every day," says Executive Director Stacey Burge, "and that situation is worsening now with the pandemic because of the economic conditions."

Single people living on the streets are more visible than families, who tend to live in cars or stay out of the public eye for fear of being separated by child protective services or other agencies, Burge notes.

Finding housing continues to be problematic. There's an existing lack of affordable housing options in the region. Couple that with everyone needing to stay away from each other to slow the spread of coronavirus and sellers being nervous to show properties. Everyone has gotten creative as the pandemic drags on.

"We've done inspections via video camera," Burge explains. "We've done tours via video camera, as well as some property owners who will just leave the key under the mat and let you go in and check things out."

IHNGN has helped about 43 families since March thanks to a set of 10 hotel suites. The group has spent about $80,000 since March on those hotels. Though COVID-19 is preventing religious groups from housing people as they usually would, Burge is thankful those congregations are helping in other ways.

"They have continued to provide us ... money toward hotel costs, food - we've had congregations bringing dinners, easily microwaveable snacks for the kiddos. We've had congregations putting together activity packs for the kids - you can imagine these poor parents stuck in hotel rooms with kids all summer."

Now that schools are back in session, congregations, she says, are helping with remote learning tools, educational supplies, and even technology like computers so kids can attend school online.

Staff members are stepping up as well, many being asked to perform duties that congregational volunteers normally handle.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.