Heer to Serve sign saying You Are Important

Salon facilitator, Free Press Board member Mark Stansbery, kicked off the salon on Zoom, engineered by Steve Caruso. The theme was “A heart for the homeless.” 

Watch the salon video here 

Free Press Board member Winie Wirth was live at the Heer to Serve at Heer Park on the south side that serves unhoused people every other Saturday evening at 6pm with food, clothing, tolietry items and other goods. OSU also provides Narcan, the antidote for overdosing. It is the site of a homeless encampment. 

Winie interviewed the lead of Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), Emily Grace, who recently attended a conference on the criminalization of homelessness. She explained how there are ordinances against having encampments, sleeping in public or in cars violations, and other legislation that tries to criminalize the homeless. She and the unhoused woman who accompanied her felt harassed at the conference.  

The group Heer to Serves always needs donations of money and items, people to cook food, and help at their Saturday evening events. It is at 151 West Williams Road, just north of Great Southern shopping center.  

Winie introduced the next speaker, Heather Fitzgerald, whose group Goldheart Outreach does camp outreach in the Short North and Clintonville. She picks up unhoused people all over the city, takes them to shelters and helps them get housing vouchers. Heather helped the Columbus Mennonite Church become a warming station during the winter for homeless people. She suggests making eye contact with unhoused people to give them respect as a human being with dignity.  

Volunteers are needed by the Goldheart Outreach group to go to camps with Heather and they need donations of tents.  

Heather pointed out that the numbers of homeless people reported is very likely much lower than the reality.  

Both Heather and Emily warned that it is not just winter when unhoused people suffer from environmental conditions. In the summer, people die from the heat without a cool place to go.  

Winie noted that her husband, the Rev. Gary Witte, offers Sunday morning breakfast for people on the west side at Glenwood United Methodist Church.  

The next speaker was Kayla Davis who works with Gary at the church to go out and get supplies and items to give to the homeless. Her group, A Step in the Right Direction, launched the first free hygiene store on the west side, offers food, clothes, harm reduction, and connects people to resources in the community.  

Kayla said that the prevailing notion is that a person in Columbus would need to make $22 an hour to be able to pay the average cost of rent and live in the city. She suggested that if a person wants to help the homeless, put bottles of water in your freezer and when you go out and see an unhoused person, give them a bottle of water.  

Kayla has found support from three Columbus City Council members: Shayla Favor, Nancy Day-Achauer and Christopher Wyche. She is testifying at the Monday, May 13 Council meeting – please attend to support her! 

Mark announced that there will be a Third Space event on housing and homeless issues with all three of these speakers on the third Saturday in June at Old First Presbyterian Church, 1101 Bryden Road, at 7pm.  

All speakers work together with each other and all reiterated that the current official resources for the homeless population in Columbus are not doing the job, and that’s why they had to start up their non-profits to fill in the gaps. There is obviously not enough affordable housing.  

There was some discussion of the city’s new zoning plan, called Zone In Columbus. You can look at the Zone in Gallery at 141 N. Front Street.