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Ohio's Homeless Population Went Up In 2019, Mostly In Columbus And Rural Areas

Mount Carmel's street outreach team goes out to homeless camps around Columbus to give check-ups and prescribe medicine.
Adora Namigadde
Mount Carmel's street outreach team goes out to homeless camps around Columbus to give check-ups and prescribe medicine.

An annual one-night nationwide homelessness survey mandated by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development showed a slight uptick in Ohio's population.

Each January, local officials canvas their region in an attempt to count the homeless population.

Around Ohio, most metros showed decreases in 2019, including double-digit drops in Cleveland and Youngstown. Cincinnati’s count dipped by nearly 3%.

But in Columbus, officials tallied roughly 1,800 people, which represents a 5.5% increase from the year before.

Community Shelter Board executive director Michelle Heritage is part of the Columbus and Franklin County Continuum Of Care—the organization that runs the survey.

“More people in this region mean more people are also going to be experiencing homelessness,” Heritage explains. “And we predict anywhere from 100-150 additional people will become homeless each year just in Franklin County because of population.”

Across the state, Ohio counted a total of 10,345 people experiencing homelessness in 2019. That’s a slight increase compared to 2018, but about 18% lower than in 2010. The largest year-over-year increase in Ohio came from the continuum of care representing the 80 non-urban counties of the state. That count rose by 11%.

When it comes to the survey’s impact on local policy, Heritage cautions making too much of the annual count - saying it’s a sledgehammer, not a scalpel. That’s because the survey is only a snapshot, and variables like the weather can make a significant impact on the count.

Heritage explains the Community Shelter Board collects more precise data on homelessness throughout the year, and that’s what drives their policy decisions.

One of the problems they’re seeing is that people are spending more time experiencing homelessness.

“And that has to do, again, with this very tough housing market,” Heritage says. “With rent increasing, up 38% in just the last five years, and also in landlord screening, not being willing anymore to give someone a chance that may have had a challenge with an eviction or a credit problem.”

Heritage says her organization is putting its efforts into preventing homelessness and rapid rehousing.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.