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Chronic homelessness in Franklin County nearly doubles; the housing crisis is to blame

Matthew Woitunski
/
Wikimedia Commons

On Jan. 25, 2024, around 200 volunteers set out on foot, in cars and by bicycle to tally Franklin County's homeless population in the annual point-in-time count.

Continuum of Care Chair Michael Wilkos was among the volunteers. His group found their first camp early that morning.

"And as we described to the two individuals in that tent what we were doing, the first response was 'thank you for counting people who don't matter,'" Wilkos said. "And, I thought, you do matter. But what other interpretation would someone living on the land think of their city when they're in that situation?"

The Community Shelter Board reported Tuesday that the count identified 2,380 people living in shelters and transitional housing or living outside or in places not meant to be homes. That set a new record for the county with a 1.8% increase over 2023, when 2,337 people were counted.

The rate of chronic homelessness nearly doubled as 224 people reported being constantly or repeatedly homeless, compared to 152 the year before — a 47% change.

A woman speaks into a microphone as a man looks on.
Allie Vugrincic
/
WOSU
Community Shelter Board President and CEO Shannon Isom answers questions about the January 2024 point-in-time count as Continuum of Care Chair Michael Wilkos looks on Tuesday at First English Lutheran Church in Olde Towne East.

The affordable housing crisis

The rise in homelessness, and especially repeated homelessness, is likely a marker of the affordable housing crisis in central Ohio, with vacancy rates under 4% and rents increasing, according to the Community Shelter Board.

Community Shelter Board President and CEO Shannon Isom said last year also saw Latitude Five25 and the Colonial Village apartments "immediately wiped out." Hundreds of residents were evacuated from Latitude Five25 on Christmas Day 2022. Months later, residents were forced out of the delipidated Colonial Village Apartments.

"Sometimes we don't believe that those that are moving in from environmental crisis and moving right into hotels are homeless," Isom said. "By definition, they are, and they need to be counted."

Isom said she believes that situations like Latitude Five25 and Colonial Village may become more common and more people will lose their homes without warning.

"We think we know what homeless people look like. We do not. We do not," Isom said. "People with homes the next day can be homeless by no fault of their own."

Four graphics show: a 5% increase in families experiencing homelessness; a 2.5% increase in homeless single adults; a 58% decrease in homeless children under 18, from 12 to 5; and a 47% increase in chronic homelessness, from 152 to 224.
Community Shelter Board
The Community Shelter Board in its 2024 January point-in-time count noted a "substantial" increase in chronic homelessness and increases in families and individual adults experiencing homelessness.

Housing families, couples, and pets

The Community Shelter Board released the details of January's point-in-time count on Tuesday at First English Lutheran Church on Main Street in Olde Towne East.

In February and March, the church served as an overnight warming center in coordination with the Community Shelter Board. It was one of four smaller, alternative locations that sheltered more than 600 people this winter, including couples and people with pets.

This year's count found 230 families experiencing homelessness, a 5% increase over last year's 219.

Isom said that the best way to support those families is to create more shelter options, specifically tailored to families, such as hotels and motels.

"We want to buy hotels. I'm saying that out loud," Isom said.

"We think we know what homeless people look like. We do not."
- Community Shelter Board President Shannon Isom

Other trends

Volunteers found 514 people were living outside, up from 498 in 2023. But the Community Shelter Board reported that overall trends show a decrease in the number of unsheltered single adults. The agency attributes the shift to greater access to shelter beds and warming centers.

This year, fewer homeless veterans and victims of domestic violence were counted.

The Community Shelter Board also found fewer unaccompanied minors — just five in 2024, compared to the 12 counted in 2023. Sonya Thesing with Huckleberry House, a teen crisis center that serves kids ages 12 to 17, said that doesn't mean youth homelessness is decreasing.

"That number is a point in time. That was one day. If you had come two or three weeks later, you would have seen that number much higher," Thesing said. "It comes and goes as families are experiencing the challenging situations."

Thesing said about 500 teens have come through Huckleberry House every year since the 1970s.

Demographics

Of all those counted in January, Black individuals represented the largest racial group at 53%. White people made up 32% of the count, people who identified as multi-racial comprised 9% and Hispanic/Latinx made up 2%.

About 57% of the county's homeless population were men, 42% are women and 1% identified as transgender, nonbinary or other.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.