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Columbus is booming. The unemployment rate is low, the economy is up. Central Ohio continues to attract new business and our designation as a Smart City means new innovations will be flowing in.

And yet, despite our growth, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Central Ohio jumped nearly seven percent in 2018.

That’s 1,807 people, the highest number recorded since 2007.

The obvious question is “why?” More jobs, more economic growth – why does this add up to more people without homes?

The reality is that unemployment isn’t the only cause of homelessness. In fact, 43 percent of people in Central Ohio’s homeless shelters are working. From housing costs to the structure of services, there are a host of factors that lead to and perpetuate a cycle of homelessness.

To date, some incredible organizations have taken steps to address these factors, including the Columbus Community Shelter Board. Founded in 1986, it was the first to create alignment among the homelessness service system and their model for support is still revered and used throughout the nation.

But as Columbus grows and evolves, so too do the dynamics impacting homelessness in our community. The people who are experiencing homelessness are facing new challenges, and the services they utilize must adapt.

To better support this population, we must address a few growing factors influencing the rise of homelessness.

Growth in population coupled with a decrease in public housing

In 2018, Central Ohio gained 43,000 residents, according toMORPC estimates. This is the largest single-year of growth in Central Ohio’s history – and the housing market can’t keep up.

Too few units mean costs are skyrocketing, putting affordable housing out of reach for many. In fact, forevery 100 extremely low-income families looking to rent, there are only 42 rental units that are both affordable and available to them. That’s 58 families that are either struggling to afford a home beyond their means or faced with homelessness.

Initially, public housing was created to address rising housing costs, but with recent changes in policy, new public housing just isn’t getting built. The waitlist for the units that do exist has been long and daunting for quite a while, and families are at a loss for where to turn next.

A need for more robust mental health services

Slowly but surely, open discussion around mental health is happening nationwide. More and more, we’re seeing increased understanding around mental health’s impact on our daily lives, and emphasis on the need for mental health programs that support people of all ages and all backgrounds.

This need is especially true in addressing homelessness. It’s not enough to simply provide a bed for our homeless community members living with mental illness. Extra care is often necessary, yet the facilities that are equipped to provide it on a daily basis are few and far between. More robust – and accessible – mental health services should be at the top of the to-do list.

A need for more services that support children and families

The prevalence of youth homelessness in the last decade took us all by surprise. From teenagers aging out of foster care now faced with finding and affording their own housing to children of families experiencing homelessness, the numbers are staggering and heart wrenching.

In 2018, over2,200 children were without a home.

Yet, most homeless shelters aren’t able to accept families. And the ones that do, like YWCA Columbus, have limited space and resources, meaning long waitlists are common. We need more services that support families as a whole, providing everything from childcare to family health services.

How to help

Meals, legal services, resume help, childcare, mental health support, vaccinations…

The list of services needed to fully wrap around and support our community members experiencing homelessness goes on and on. Unfortunately, the list of resources available to provide these services looks a lot shorter.

Programs like YWCA Columbus and YMCA of Central Ohio are always accepting community help to better support this population. Here are just a few ways you can get involved:

  • Volunteer to serve meals
  • Donate diapers
  • Donate hats, gloves, coats, mittens, blankets
  • Donate gift cards
  • Make a monetary donation
  • Host a donation drive

To further support programs for YWCA Columbus that can help contribute to a solution, we invite you to attend our Activists and Agitators fundraiser. Dedicated to inspiring attendees to pursue greater social change, this event will spark a dialogue around practical resources to promote empowerment and inclusion.

As Columbus continues to grow, we as a community are at a crossroads. Together, we must decide to tackle the causes of homelessness at the roots, to fully support a population that needs us most, and to fight to prevent the cycle before it begins.

About Christie Angel, CEO of YWCA Columbus

After working in the private and public sectors of Columbus for many years, Christie joined YWCA Columbus in 2017. Her love of Columbus and desire to create environments for people to thrive is the driving force behind her leading the organization.


Christie Angel, CEO of YWCA Columbus