Safe, Decent, and Affordable Housing is Fundamental to the Health and Prosperity of Ohio’s Children and Families
June 24, 2020
By Alison Paxson, Policy Fellow
Housing is health care, and ensuring all Ohioans have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing has become increasingly urgent during this global pandemic.
During the latest webinar from the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus, policymakers and advocates engaged on the topic of how we can best support youth experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness in Ohio – a population that has grown alarmingly in recent years and one which we expect to increase further in light of the economic downturn.
According to data, we know that Ohio’s young children are among the fastest growing segments of our population experiencing homelessness.
“Nearly 30% of all individuals accessing homeless services in 2017 were minors,” said Sen. Peggy Lehner during opening comments. “This includes 2,943 infants under age 1 – an increase of 53% since 2012.”
Additionally, older youth and adolescents, particularly those in or aging out of the foster care system, have a high risk of experiencing homelessness in Ohio.
The Caucus was joined by the following panel of experts:
- Gina Wilt, Advocacy Director, Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO)
- Asia McKenzie, Beat the Odds Scholar and Air Transportation Honors Students at The Ohio State University
- Abigail Staudt, Managing Attorney of Housing Law Practice, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
- Kate Lodge, Executive Director, YWCA of Greater Cleveland’s A Place 4 Me program
One of the panelists, Asia McKenzie, spoke of her own personal experiences growing up housing insecure. “For years, my family was teetering the line just above homelessness,” she said, “and it was one small crisis that sent us into homelessness.”
Asia’s contributions to this panel brought a critically needed human face to the issue of homelessness and housing insecurity.
“Don’t assume that there is one type of homeless person or homeless youth,” she said. “Different people are going to face different adversities when they are homeless. Homeless people and youth are going have different family situations, races, sexualities, and levels of abledness, and they should all feel as if their adversities are understood and that they are being supported by the efforts to help with homelessness.”
Some further key takeaways from this panel include:
- Approximately 1.2 million Ohioans have applied for unemployment benefits in a short period of time, and even before this increase in financial instability among Ohioans, we know over 400,000 households in our state reported spending at least half of their income on rent alone.
- Ohioans urgently need investments in emergency rental assistance. Eviction moratoriums only hit the pause button on payments that tenants owe their landlords. The federal HEROES Act includes language drafted by Sen. Sherrod Brown that would invest $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and this legislation is a critical opportunity to provide support to families on the brink of eviction.
- At the state level, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars need to be used to divert individuals and families from even entering homelessness in the first place. It is recommended that the DeWine Administration allocate $35 million in TANF funds towards rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention.
- There is currently a backlog of 500 eviction cases in Ohio. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland reports that calls for rental assistance and eviction filings have increased by 25% when compared with last year’s numbers since court reopened on July 15th. Those calling today encompass an even broader range of individuals than we’ve seen in the past, including those from urban, rural, and suburban areas. These calls are expected to increase in the coming weeks as more individuals recognize impending legal issues due to difficulties paying rent.
- One promising practice is the city of Cleveland’s recently adopted Right to Counsel provision which will be effective on July 1, 2020. This measure will ensure access to legal representation for low income individuals with children.
- An April 2020 survey from the Greater Cleveland YWCA’s A Place 4 Me program, which serves young people ages 18-24 at risk of or experiencing homelessness, gives insight into the demographics of youth who are accessing their services:
- Of the respondents, 39% say they are parents with at least one child.
- Nearly half of all respondents to the survey (41%) report that they are employed and have at least one paying job.
- When asked whether they had ever slept in a homeless shelter or a place where people weren’t meant to sleep because they did not have anywhere else to stay, 40% of respondents say yes. Of those who say yes, 32% are Black youth and 8% are white.
- 15% of respondents indicated that they do not have any caring adults to turn to for support with their life goals.
- Some specific programmatic items to consider are:
- More programs are needed that allow unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 to access their services and resources.
- Stipends to those experiencing homelessness are currently too low for many to obtain decent quality housing and afford utilities in the current market.
- Placing restrictions on access to housing assistance and services based on prior evictions or criminal convictions only exacerbates the problem and does not help those most in need.
- Application processes and their required steps should be designed in a way they can be clearly understood by as many types of people as possible. When designing programs to provide housing or support for the homeless, consider providing transportation, assistance for the disabled during the application process, and assistance with access to technology when necessary.
If you are interested in registering for the next webinar centering on Education Equity on Friday, July 10, 2020 at 1:00pm, please click here.
To access a recording of this webinar, please click here.
To access the slide deck presented during this webinar, please click here.
About the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus:
Co-chaired by Sen. Peggy Lehner and Rep. Allison Russo, the Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral, issues-based caucus created to improve the effectiveness and reach of policy designed to positively impact children from birth to age eighteen (and beyond in some cases). The goal of the caucus is to make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of children through public policy to move the needle on these child indicators of well-being. For more information about the Children’s Caucus, please contact Alison Paxson at email@example.com