Commissioners meet with agency leaders to discuss homelessness in Coshocton

| August 1, 2018

COSHOCTON – A group of agency leaders in Coshocton County met at the commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 1 to discuss the homeless situation in Coshocton County. Although homelessness is not as severe in the county as it is in larger cities, it is a growing problem that many mental health and service agencies in Coshocton County have seen on the rise since only five years ago.

“These are not people from Cleveland or Columbus,” said Sheriff Timothy Rogers, who began the panel discussion. “Probably 90 percent are local people, and most choose not to hold jobs. Most of that is because of their drug addiction and a lot of them can’t hold jobs because they can’t pass any drug screenings.”

Rogers said that the homeless are all around the county and he and his officers have driven people away from areas around town such as the artPARK, the gazebo on the courtsquare, sleeping on park benches, the dugouts in Stewart Field, the canal boat, Lake Park bathrooms, and many other places throughout the city and county.

“I remember just a few years ago, there was not anyone on the streets,” said Rogers. “That’s changed. Our office deals with this on a daily basis. We get multiple calls for service every day.”

People are incarcerated if they are a repeat offender, threaten or are belligerent to an officer, or those who refuse to leave the area.

Rogers also said that last year, there was a big influx of people living in tents and boxes across the street from Bob Evans and that so far this year, there have been 17 thefts in the county related to homelessness. According to Rogers, they are stealing food, shelter, such as tents and boxes, and even propane tanks.

Rogers said that his office deals with a homeless situation about 10 to 15 times in a week.

“The problem is, there is no place to put them,” said Rogers. “We tell them to move on, but a lot of times, they go right back to the same place. Then we have to incarcerate them. If we confront someone who is cold and hungry, they usually want to argue and fight because if they are belligerent, they go to a warm jail and have food.”

After the sheriff’s presentation, Commissioner Shryock opened the meeting for open discussion.

Linda Holt, homeless shelter director at Kno-Ho-Co-Ashland in Mount Vernon, was present at the meeting.

“Our target is families with children for the shelter,” she said. “There’s not a lot of single people in there because we’re not really set up for that. We’re in the middle of renovations now, so it hasn’t been available for the last few months.”

She also announced that Kno-Ho-Co-Ashland has a Rapid Rehousing Program where the first month’s rent and deposit are free. However, she said that most tenants don’t take care of the unit and a lot of landlords helping with the program have quit due to this situation.

“We tell them what the best plan is, but it’s their choice,” she said. “You can’t make them do what they don’t want to do.”

Victoria Clark, captain at the Coshocton Salvation Army along with her husband Thomas, said that the Salvation Army sees at least 15 – 20 people each month, sometimes multiple times a month, who come in for the services provided there.

They have emergency food and hygiene items available for anyone who comes in for help.

“We also provide case management with them and try to get to the core of the issue because homelessness is not the core issue,” said Clark.

The Salvation Army also provides recovery programs for people who are addicted and with some situations, the army will provide a temporary room for the individual at the Downtown Motel in exchange for a few hours of work at the motel.

“We take the individual in and embrace them and try to get them from their crisis situation to a stable situation,” said Clark. “We also try to repair the family relationships so they can have support, but that’s not easy. They maybe have burnt some bridges with family relationships with stealing or whatever it is. It’s an ongoing situation because we’ve got to protect our community. As leaders of the community, we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can.”

She also talked about a program in Massachusetts where churches sponsor a night of a program, Overnights of Hospitality. Everyone meets at the Salvation Army and are then transported to a church where they receive a hot meal and a place to sleep. She and Tom are working with advisors in Cleveland to see if the program would be feasible here.

Danny Brenneman, director of Coshocton County Job and Family Services, said that about 90 percent of their programs are geared toward families and children. He said JFS has also shifted to serving employees from the job seeker. He said currently, there are 85 to 90 qualified job openings in the community.

“It’s not that the opportunities are not out there, but bridging the gap with mental illness and addiction, that’s a tough gap to bridge,” said Brenneman.

JFS requires the individual to give time and effort to their programs to start with, but most are not willing to see it through.

Lyn Jacobs, workforce development at JFS, said that they have workshops available to help anyone improve their employability skills.

“The problem is drug abuse and some disabilities,” said Jacobs. “Some people have certain disabilities that make them unemployable.”

Beth Cormack, executive director at Coshocton Behavioral Health Choices, said they have 16 apartments, nine of which are single dwellings and seven are for families. Currently, there are 16 adults and 10 to 12 children living there.

“We can’t have just anyone,” she said. “You have to be at least 30 days sober. If they’re willing to work with us, we can get them in in 30 days. Some people don’t like it because we have a curfew. Everyone must be in the building by 11 p.m. and there are cameras on the premises. They also have to participate in two to three drug tests each week. Addicts can change. We’ve seen it happen and we’ve had great results. But it’s not something they’re always going to get the first time. It might take the second, third, or fourth time to succeed.”

Tyra Hixon, clinical director at Coshocton Behavioral Health Choices, said that one reason it’s hard for people to accept the 11 p.m. curfew is because that’s usually when they’re out on the streets.

“The hours they keep are different than what we have,” said Hixon. “One of the reasons we instituted our 11 p.m. curfew was to get them on the ‘real world’ schedule. We have a few rules they have to follow, but it’s hard for them because it conflicts with what the hours they’ve been keeping.”

Rogers commented that the average person has no idea that people in this community are living like this. Commissioner Shryock agreed.

“I don’t think the average person realizes what goes on and part of what the sheriff has to deal with every day,” he said. “And also what mental health agencies and other agencies deal with.”

Rogers ended the meeting by announcing that the justice center has some programs but they do not have the ability for a classroom setting. He said that most homeless people in Coshocton are in the 20s or 30s and that most have drug addictions.

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About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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