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Ohio programs working to prevent rise in homelessness after pandemic

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(Photo: WSYX)

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The pandemic has highlighted a crucial problem of homelessness across the nation and here in Ohio. As the state works to recover from COVID-19, organizations are also trying to prevent a rise in homeless numbers.

"I was sleeping over behind Cosi, by the water park," A man named Corey outside of the downtown YMCA said. He didn't want to share his last name but agreed to share a glimpse of what he has been through.

"The experience was heavy," he said. "It was rough. If you don't have anything to look forward to or fall back on, life is really hard. I'm just thankful that God got me in here and got me off of the streets, being homeless."

It was the YMCA Men's Shelter that saved Corey's life with a place to sleep and security.

"Homelessness can impact anybody," YMCA Chief Strategy Officer Brandi Braun said. "It is not just a place to stay. We are also providing wrap-around services. We're helping people move through a tough point in their life."

That tough point has come for so many during the pandemic. Families who were already struggling, found themselves in dire straits when Covid 19 hit. Shelters like the YMCA had to quickly rearrange for social distancing. Staff members and volunteers worked around the clock to provide safe spaces for families in need.

"Our shelter and housing operations are up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. They do not stop. We didn't stop when there were stay-at-home orders and places were shut down."

Marcus Roth with the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing says the goal is to prevent a rise in homelessness.

"How many people were already on the edge? The pandemic just came along and pushed them over," Roth said.

COHHIO said there are many concerning factors that point to the possibility of an increase. Nearly 2 million Ohioans applied for unemployment in 2020. More than 300,000 say they are behind on rent. More than 200,000 say eviction is possible for them in two months.

"This pandemic is going to be raging for a while longer, and it's going to take much longer for the economy to get back, and for us to get this virus under control."

Roth said there is often a lag before a rise in homeless numbers comes. People usually temporarily stay with their friends or relatives. The recent $25 billion in rental assistance approved by congress he said will help curb an increase, but a more permanent fix is needed regarding housing.

"The pandemic has really highlighted this decades-long problem that has just been growing on the lack of affordable housing," Roth said.

It's an issue many people in Columbus, like Corey, have had to face head-on.

"It's just really hard to look at these people and see them," Corey said. "Knowing I've been in the predicament that they are in."

Corey is now staying at the YMCA but hopes to find a place of his own soon.

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"I've even thought about online college," he said. "I want to further my education and figure out what I need to do to make my life better."

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