Williams County will be forming its own committee to address the growing homeless issue.
For at least three years, representatives of various agencies in the county have been meeting quarterly with a representative of the Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission (NOCAC) to try address homelessness. NOCAC holds similar meetings with other counties it represents.
On Wednesday, the agency representatives decided the problem will not be solved meeting quarterly and decided to form a separate committee that meets monthly.
“I think we have to,” said Katie Shaffer of Sarah’s Friends, an agency in Bryan that helps victims of crime. “Ideally it would be nice to walk out today with a plan of who is in this room of how are we going to achieve step one, or start working on step one.”
That step involves getting a more accurate count of homeless in the county. Kelsey Petersen of the NOCAC Path Center, a homeless shelter in Defiance, said the quarterly report for the area showed 16 households homeless in Williams County. That count ran from October to December.
However, she stressed it is believed that count is low for a variety of reasons. She said she sends out a form on a quarterly basis to area agencies asking them to fill out and count the homeless they are helping.
“I believe I get participation from Sarah’s Friends and Williams County NOCAC,” Peterson said. “I send it out to The Sanctuary as well, I usually don’t get a response from them.”
The Sanctuary is an emergency shelter in Bryan. Pheba Sam, representing The Sanctuary, said she and her husband, who runs the shelter, are unable to fill out the form, but added if someone wanted to come to the shelter and count they could.
“We are just too overwhelmed,” Sam said.
Shaffer said later that since Sarah’s Friends is located across the street, she would be willing to come to The Sanctuary and do the quarterly count for them.
“So these numbers are definitely not accurate for Williams County,” Peterson said referring to the 16 households in the latest quarterly count.
She added there was also no count of those staying at Dad’s Place in Bryan.
Peterson also said NOCAC is currently finishing up its point-in-time count, in which agency members go into the communities it serves nationally and actively counts the homeless that are outside or living in their cars.
“So I actually did Williams County, and we only did find two individuals and they were just parked outside of The Sanctuary,” Peterson said. “We did track down a local police officer and he gave us some spots, but there was nobody there.”
However, she also said this count is done in January, when it’s less likely to find homeless people living outside.
Peterson said that after the meeting she planned to go to The Sanctuary and Dad’s Place to try to get a count at those locations.
It is also hoped to get more people involved who have a stake in the issue. It was noted no municipal or county government representatives were at Wednesday’s meeting, nor was anyone from Dad’s Place.
In recent weeks, Dad’s Place and the City of Bryan have garnered national attention with the city charging Pastor Chris Avell of Dad’s Place with multiple zoning code violations related to allowing people to reside at the facility, mainly homeless and transients. Avell, in turn, has sued the city in federal court asking for the city to be stopped from pursuing its action.
The zoning case against Dad’s Place has had the pre-trial hearing scheduled for this week and the trial scheduled for next week canceled until a ruling from the federal court is issued.
“One of the major issues I’ve had throughout this is that we’re not doing anything to improve,” said Becky Kimble of The Ability Center. “We’re just kind of keeping it as, we send people to the Path Center or we have institutions like the churches paying for housing, but you read in the paper and you hear how the various mayors — I’m not just talking about one — they’re saying they’re working with social agencies, but I don’t see any of them here.
“There’s no one stepping forward and saying, ‘Ok, we have a problem,’” she added. “It’s just been status quo, and that’s not working.”
The Williams County Ministerial Association will also try to begin keeping track of those it refers for housing assistance and provide those numbers.
It was pointed out that homeless can have different definitions. For instance, for the purpose of getting funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if someone is staying with family or a friend but doesn’t have a place of their own, that doesn’t count as homeless.
However, the local representatives said they could keep dual counts, official one for reporting agencies and another for those that are homeless but may not meet the legal definition.
The first monthly meeting of the new committee will be Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. at the Williams County East Annex Building in the conference room.