Residents Discuss Overpopulation in Local Homeless Shelters
Leaders from local organizations seeking to supply housing to people in need emphasized the serious need for additional housing and recovery facilities in the county.
The Timothy House, operated by Good Works Inc., is currently the only homeless shelter within a nine county radius. Last year 142 people were turned away from the shelter due to lack of space; more than 60 of those people were children.
Andrea Horsch, director of caregiving at Good Works, said a large part of the solution to resolving homelessness in the area was represented by those who were present at the meeting; those who have recognized that the issue is there and that the community could do better in helping those who are homeless.
Horsch said research shows that the greatest influencing factor in a person who is currently experiencing homelessness becoming stable is having someone help them through it.
“A huge part of the solution locally is to become that supportive community that people are missing. People fall through the cracks because there are big cracks to fall through,” she said. “We want to plug up some of those gaps; we want to truly be a community of hope for people.”
Good Works has been looking to expand their facilities for several years but has been prevented from doing so as a result of zoning and code obstacles. Horsch said progress is being made and City Planner Paul Logue has been working with her to find a possible solution.
Resident Robin Brigante shared her personal experience with homelessness and how she overcame her situation.
Brigante was diagnosed with a mental illness in 1999 and soon lost her job. She became homeless and sought help at a local homeless shelter. She was later involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.
While in recovery she applied for a Habitat for Humanity Home and was accepted. Her home was built around her special needs, making it accessible for her and allowing her to live alone.
“If I didn’t have that house, my life would be a lot harder than it is,” she said. “I’m very blessed and very appreciative. I’m here to let everyone know that these programs work and I’m proof of it.”
Addressing the challenges of homelessness in Athens is a complex issue. Not only is there a lack of facilities, but also there have often been concerns raised from those in the community on where those facilities should be located.
There has been much controversy over Integrated Services of Appalachian Ohio’s proposed homeless facility on Graham Drive. A group of concerned residents filed a taxpayer lawsuit against the city in relation to the project, claiming the home was built illegally.
Milena Miller, a resident of Graham Drive, voiced her concerns over what she termed the “chaotic development” on her street. According to Miller, the main issue amongst the residents was the developer did not inform them a homeless facility was being constructed. Instead, residents were first told it would be an expanded parking lot for Integrated Services’ office located across the street.
“We were just lied to from the start … the community up and down Graham Drive, we simply did not know what was happening there,” she said. “It’s been a little hard for us to digest because we still don’t trust what [the developer] says he’s going to be responsible for in the future.”
Miller said she and her neighbors want some kind of reassurance from Integrated Services. They are concerned for the safety of their community if those living in the facility have been involved with drugs or are convicted felons.
Miller went on to say that she and her neighbors expect more transparency from city officials in the future in dealing with the Graham Drive project.
In searching for solutions to the issue of homelessness in Athens County, Kenneth Oehlers, executive director of Athens County Habitat for Humanity, emphasized finding housing for those in need should not be a political issue.
“Housing is a need that affects us all,” Oehlers said. “Housing is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian one. People are in need and they deserve a chance to create a better life for themselves.”