3/10/2017 4:35:00 PM Youth homelessness targeted Jackson, Vinton Counties to benefit from $2.2-million grant
State Representative Ryan Smith addressed the ongoing state budget process and the affect the ever-present opiate epidemic has on homelessness in the region. Smith stressed the importance of working together to solve problems and expressed his excitement for the future of this project. (Telegram Photos By Phillip Buffington)
One of the speakers for Friday morning’s kick-off event was Jackson Mayor Randy Heath. During his speech, Heath spoke of various youth-oriented activities he considers to be an important part of the local community, as well as the importance of young people with regard to the future of the area.
It was announced Friday that five Southeastern Ohio counties (Athens, Vinton, Meigs, Jackson, and Gallia) were recently awarded a $2.2 million Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project grant, which is part of a national effort aimed at preventing and ending youth homelessness.
Service providers, advocates and local officials gathered together Friday morning, March 10 at the Jackson Christ United Methodist Church's Family Life Center to discuss opportunities for funding, community collaboration and expected outcomes for the project.
Youth homelessness is a significant problem that is largely out of view in rural parts of the state. High poverty, unemployment, and the opioid crisis make Southeastern Ohio particularly challenging for youth struggling to find a safe place to live. The Southeast Ohio Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project is geared toward providing federal funding for innovative ways to serve homeless youth that could serve as a model for fighting youth homelessness throughout Ohio and the U.S.
The Ohio Balance of State Coalition of Care was one of 10 recipients of funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, according to Rick Games, the Co-Executive Director of the Sojourners Care Network. Four of these recipients were from rural areas like that of Southeastern Ohio. The organized committee for this region's demonstration project consists of the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA), the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), local service agencies such as Jackson County Job and Family Services (JFS), Sojourners, and area youth.
With regard to the involvement of area youth in this undertaking, the Chief of Staff at ODSA Andy Pusateri said Friday that collaboration is the key to success in this project. He further said an integral part of that collaboration involves a Youth Action Board (YAB), which involves young people taking the time to share their experiences, both good and bad, to help the project team. This input will then provide understanding of the day-to-day challenges of young homeless Ohioans. In all, area youth will be involved in every aspect of this project, from start to finish.
"While youth homelessness isn't a new problem, we must find new ways to address it," Pusateri said. "We can't rest and we must adapt. That's what this grant will help us do."
In general, the project is geared toward helping young people find a home, job, training and education, and to prevent and ultimately end youth homelessness both in Ohio and across the nation.
"We want to make sure that all Ohioans have the resources to reach their full potential," Pusateri stated. "This will not be an easy task and this grant won't fix things overnight, but we have a committed group of people working on this and their experiences and knowledge will create solutions that will make an impact."
The Executive Director of COHHIO, Bill Faith, spoke Friday morning about the efforts that have already been made in Ohio, and specifically in this region, in combating not only youth homelessness, but homelessness in general. Over the past five years, he explained there has been a drop in homeless veterans and homeless families. One of the most impressive statistics, Faith opined, is a 63 percent drop in chronic homelessness, which he said is due in large part to the development of "smart strategies."
"This part of the state has been particularly strong in trying to attack the problem of youth homelessness," Faith said. "That's one of the reasons this money has come to this region."
Another factor mention by Faith, and later echoed by State Representative Ryan Smith, is the opiate epidemic and its direct correlation to the homelessness problem. With this challenge and the ongoing budget process for the state, Rep. Smith pointed to the importance of working together in this "all-hands-on-deck call."
Additional speakers at Friday's event included Jackson Mayor Randy Heath, YAB members Daniel Rupert and Takala Johnson, Youth Initiative Coordinator Evette Bethel, and others.
Now that funding has been secured, a project plan must now be put in place by July. More information on these efforts is expected as the year progresses.