Proposed New Budget Increase for Homelessness Programs Barely Makes a Dent in Akron

By Nadine Battah & Jay Shah

Darrita Davis from Harmony house and Erica Ward discuss how they assist the homeless population in Akron, OH

Summit County consists of a massive homeless population including almost 2000 undocumented homeless individuals. The demographic of these individuals varies from at-risk youth to single parents. Despite the availability of certain services thanks to community and state funded local organizations, Summit County is far away from successfully eradicating what is considered as an important public health issue. 

Earlier this year, U.S. Secreary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson approved a funding increase of about $109 million to be awarded to needy counties across Ohio. Around $28 million of this funding will be granted to Cuyahoga County and $232,125 have already been awarded to Huckleberry House in Columbus, Ohio. 

Unfortunately, however, there has been no indication of whether Summit County may receive a part of this funding. Local organizations that are actively involved include Community Support Services, Supportive Services for Veteran Families, Continuum of Care, Family Promise of Summit County, Harmony House, Haven of Rest Ministries, Access Women’s Shelter among others. 

While most of these organizations receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), grants on the local and state level as well as community-based donations are an integral part towards keeping these organizations afloat.

According to Darrita Davis, the case manager at Harmony House which benefits at-risk youth aged 18-26, a number of her clients have experienced foster care prior to their arrival. Most of the clients that are approved to become residents are referred through the Homeless Hotline.

Darrita Davis, Harmony House Case Manager

Harmony House provides room and board for up to 24 months with the rent fully paid, including additional services to assist their clients with transitioning out of homelessness. The shelter provides personal hygiene supplies, assessment, Independence Action Planning, Life Skills groups, education assistance and advocacy, information, referral and supportive services.

“We will support them even if they’re transitioning out of our program, we can still support them for almost another year,” said Davis.

Although, most of the residents at Harmony House are employed, the ones that aren’t can be assisted with obtaining birth certificates, social security cards, proper identification, school enrollment, telephone communication, and interviewing skills, developing positive relationships, managing stress, and anger, as well as responding to the police for a $10 a day program fee.

Another local organization that supports children as well as families and single parents with children is Family Promise of Summit County. According to their 2018 Annual Report, 100% of the families that graduated from their program were able to successfully find affordable housing. 

 
Erica Ward, a social worker for Family Promise

Erica Ward is a social worker at Family Promise and assists in evaluating a families needs within the program.

Family Promise partners with various local organizations including United Way, a program that is monumental in assisting with referrals and the Akron Community Foundation.

Most of these local organizations and shelters offer daily services such as basic necessity items such as toiletries, hot showers, free laundry, nighttime shelter as well as counseling. Another unique organization that Family Promise partners with is the Continuum of Care and Community Support Services organizations which also provide assistance with mental health and substance abuse treatment. 

Moreover, for victims of domestic violence facing homelessness, Hope and Healing Survivor Resource Center offers counseling as well as assistance with placement in the Battered Women’s Shelter in Summit County. 

Despite the extensive efforts of the local community as well as the individual fundraising efforts of these organizations, there is a constant necessity for more. Although, these proceeds are applied towards the resources provided by these organizations, Katherine Biggs aka Lady Katie speaks otherwise.

Katherine Biggs aka Lady Katie discusses how lack of transportation is one of the biggest struggles for people who are experiencing homelessness

Biggs has been transient for almost two years and is also a victim of domestic violence, which was the original cause for her homelessness. She has experience dealing with victim assistance due to her past encounters and says that she wished they could have done more for her. 

While seeking residence at Hope and Healing, Biggs received counseling support although it had been very limited. Biggs says that in her time there she did not feel like they provided a supportive environment. However, despite to what she felt was a lack of care, Biggs recognized victim assistance’s limitations due to ongoing budget cuts. 

According to an article on cleveland.com, more than 380 victim assistance agencies across the state received cuts in grant funding by 7%. Domestic Violence programs lost more than $198,000 due to budget cuts. 

“Churches provide more help than actual government-ran entities and churches should be receiving the grants because they are actually on the frontline. Yes, you have these social workers that went to college dreaming they could be the change they wanted to see in the world but they are hamstrung like the women at the victims assistance, having nothing to assist or give to assist the victims because they don’t receive funding, because the state doesn’t take them seriously,” said Biggs. 

She continues further touching on the necessity for donation, comparing  victim assistance to Hope and Healing where she claims she could find a pair of name-brand jeans in the dumpster. “Nobody knows they really exist unless you’re a victim of domestic violence. Nobody knows to donate to them,” said Biggs.

Another important issue that Biggs pointed out was the lack of transportation assistance available to people in her situation. She spoke about the trials and tribulations surrounding the constant necessity to choose between acquiring sustenance, acquiring shelter or acquiring the resources to access the internet and look for gainful employment.

Biggs also touched on the locations of the food banks across Summit County and strongly believes that funding should be allocated towards opening more locations of these organizations in smaller perimeters to make them more accessible for a population that has to resort to travelling everywhere via foot.

Lastly, Biggs is a firm believer in the aid provided by the local community as she has received more worthwhile help from her friends, family and neighbors in her personal experience being transient, than the assistance she briefly received from the local shelters.

Katherine Biggs did not feel comfortable with being on camera and in order for her life to not be endangered, no photographs were taken.

Jay Shah- Writing, Editing, Audio, Photos, Graphics

Nadine Battah- Video, Photos, Audio, Editing,