Rally and tent houseless

Eviction filings in Franklin County have increased by 150% since 2020 and the population of unsheltered houseless people has risen by 235% since 2007, says an activist coalition that wants the community to know Franklin County’s eviction court is still at its pandemic temp site in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The sentiment all along has been that the move to the Convention Center wasn’t entirely about social distancing but the need for more space as the crush of local evictions could become overwhelming.

“Instead of helping struggling residents during the pandemic, city and county leadership worked to ensure that evictions could continue by moving eviction court to a larger space. The deck has long been stacked against Franklin County residents, and it’s clear our leadership has no intention of solving the problems we face. Housing is a human right, and we and our neighbors deserve better,” said Charlie Geer of the Central Ohio Housing Action Network.

Activists are mobilizing for a Wednesday, June 30 rally at 6 pm at the Convention Center. Two local progressive groups are leading the way: Columbus Stand Up! and Hydrohelpers. Both organizations formed last summer.

Columbus Stand Up! founder Morgan Harper will be speaking first on Wednesday, but those who have experienced houselessness will also be represented.

“This is a rally to uplift the voices of the folks experiencing houseless in Columbus.” said Maria Vrcek, deputy director for Columbus Stand Up! “We will have a few speakers who have experienced houselessness in Columbus to talk about their experience and share their testimony, and we think that’s going to be pretty powerful to put faces to the problem."

Columbus is not witnessing tent encampments springing up in community greenspaces and under bridges, like what’s happening in Austin, Texas and other US cities, but it’s trending in that direction, especially post-pandemic. A gut-punching 60 Minutes story earlier this year exposed how some Columbus houseless have been surviving in tents behind a Walmart on the far southside.

It was also no secret that affordable housing was a lurking and serious problem well before the pandemic. The Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio in 2019 stated the area is 54,000 units short for families who spend half their income on shelter.

Indeed, the situation is far worse than the community wants to recognize. Emily Myers of the southside nonprofit Here to Serve told the Free Press that close to 700 residents with some type of mental or physical disability are on a Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority housing waiting list which is six to nine months long. 

“These are people who are completely unsheltered,” said Myers who doesn’t get paid for her community-minded work. “They’re out in the community, sleeping in front of churches.”

Vrcek of Columbus Stand Up! says the housing coalition on Wednesday will lay out five demands to government officials:

•      Implement an emergency rent stabilization ordinance, which would allow landlords to increase rent only once per year and not exceed a set percentage. Los Angeles passed a rent stabilization ordinance last year capping rent increases at 3% for some units.

•      Stop evictions by mandating an eviction diversion program.

•      Increase affordable housing supply by demanding developers devote 50% of new units to those making $30,000 or less.

•      The City of Columbus devote 30% of its annual budget directly to those experiencing houselessness.

•      Increase representation of houseless folks by making 50% of Columbus’s Affordable Housing Trust Board people who have experienced houselessness themselves.

Hydrohelpers’ founder Maria Holland does not keep her past houselessness a secret. She suggested if all residents experienced what she lived first-hand, the community would move to end the greed that’s driving developers and landlords to price so many out of a roof over their head.

“It’s not pretty, and that is why we are dedicated to help this issue,” said Holland. “When you ignore the problem, you are saying that people who can’t afford housing are less deserving. Is that the message we want to send to the community? I don’t think so. We want to show the people that we are for them and not just their profits. Join us as we take a stand to help end this crisis, one house, one neighbor, one neighborhood at a time.”

Who: Columbus Stand Up!, The Freedom Bloc, Hydrohelpers, Central Ohio Housing Action Network, Young Democratic Socialists of America, National Association of Social Workers-Ohio, Our Revolution, Columbus DSA, and the Columbus Party for Socialism and Liberation and many other organizations and community members 

What: Rally calling for #ColumbusHousingForAll

Where: Columbus Convention Center, corner of Spruce St. and N. High St. (near parking for North Market)

When: Wednesday, June 30th, 6PM