(WKBN) – Rising rent, inflation and an increasing number of evictions have stretched operations thin at the area’s homeless shelters.
Those that WKBN spoke with reported an increasing number of clients through their doors, and Catholic Charities has a waiting list for its shelters.
Adele Michaels, whom WKBN spoke with over the summer, was one of those struggling to find housing after her home in Warren was condemned. Michaels, along with her boyfriend and mother, remained living at the house in the weeks after the condemnation notice went up on the house, saying they struggled to find another place to go that would accept their pets and that they could afford.
“We’ve been hoping and praying that something comes up,” she told WKBN in July.
Since then, Michaels said her search for housing led her to a temporary stay in a hotel and later the family’s car before she was able to find an apartment in Warren last month, thanks to some assistance from the Trumbull Community Action Program.
Michaels and her mother say they worked as newspaper carriers but business died down, and they had issues with their car that prevented them from being able to make the deliveries. That, along with health issues, led them to get behind on bills, the water got turned off, and the city’s Health Department declared that the condition of the home had deteriorated to a point where it had become unsafe to live in.
Michaels, who lived in the home for almost eight years, said it was devastating.
“It just happened gradually over time. It’s like cancer. You don’t notice it until it’s right up there in your face, and everything all just crashes around you,” she said from the porch of the home in July.
Warren’s Deputy Health Commissioner John May said condemning people’s homes is a last resort but sometimes necessary as health issues arise. Homeowners are given the opportunity to bring the house back up to code or sell to a new owner who is willing to make the repairs. They can also go before the Board of Health to plead their case.
May, and coworker Marlin Bartholomew, the city’s environmental health director, have noticed more of these types of issues in the city in recent years.
“What we do have is seemingly an influx of dilapidated, deteriorating homes. COVID seemed to trigger an increase in that. Folks weren’t working, so I think with the lack of funds, there was a lack of improvement and upkeep in homes,” May said.
In 2019, the city of Warren condemned 96 residential properties. In the following years, that number dropped to 67 in 2020, 58 in 2021, and 62 in 2022. But this year, as of Oct. 23, 201 residential properties have already been condemned.
May and Bartholomew said they try to connect homeowners with local resources when they can, like emergency home repair programs and other agencies that can assist them.
Michaels acknowledged there were issues in going to area shelters. For one thing, she had a couple of pets, and the area’s animal shelters are also full.
Colleen Kosta, coordinator at Homeless Continuum of Care, said there is often a challenge placing homeless people who have pets because many shelters are unwilling to take their pets on a temporary basis because they’re at capacity, and many rental properties have a no-pet policy.
Continuum of Care is an initiative funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that funds local nonprofits that provide housing services and rental subsidies. Part of the Continuum’s goal is identifying gaps and needs in the area.
Kosta said those living without shelter in Mahoning County have remained pretty steady over the years, until recently.
The Continuum of Care conducts a yearly “Point-in-Time Count” of homeless people in the area during the last 10 days of January. Surveyors gather data by seeing who is sleeping outside or in their cars during this point in time for the surveys, which are provided to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In 2023, there were 31 unsheltered people in the area and 117 people who were staying in emergency homeless shelters.
In 2022, there were 12 unsheltered people and 111 in emergency shelters; and in 2021, Continuum of Care counted 42 people in emergency shelters and none who were unsheltered.
“During 2020 and 2021, we saw a decrease, but now that number has significantly increased. And we’re starting to try to kind of figure out why that is happening. A lot of it has to do with rental prices, inflation, and then also we have people who are coming to Mahoning County and Youngstown, not having any friends or family and not having any place to go,” she said.
Kosta said there are likely more homeless people who are under the radar, however, as they’re staying with friends or family or moving from place to place, rather than staying in the area’s homeless shelters.
What those at Continuum of Care have noticed is that many of the people who are homeless were coming from larger neighboring cities, likely in search of cheaper housing. Kosta said they tried looking into this further, but many of those people were staying in downtown Youngstown and moved during the construction downtown.
Catholic Charities Regional Agency provides services in the area to those and need and also runs two homeless shelters for women and children. One of those shelters opened in 2017 while another opened earlier this year, and each has a capacity of seven bedrooms.
The agency was able to open the shelters through CARES Act funding and other grants, but some of that money is drying up. Still, the agency’s executive director, Nancy Voitus, said the need is greater than ever.
“We have a long waiting list. We probably have about 30 families on the waiting list right now, for both shelters,” she said. “Any kind of support that we can garner going into 2024 is going to be really critical to keep those shelters running.”
The agency’s goal is to get people back on their feet. Those at the organization work with people to help them budget, find resources and become self-sufficient, with the goal of finding more stable housing within 30 days.
Lately, though, circumstances have increased those shelter stays.
“The reality is the length of stays have run closer to 70 days average, some even longer, and a lot of that is because either people have difficulty finding or sustaining a work schedule that gives them stable income, or if they are working, it’s finding the affordable housing that they can afford with the right number of bedrooms, depending on how many kids they have,” Voitus said.
Voitus said one challenge is getting landlords who are willing to work with their agency’s clients.
“I know landlords have expenses — they have to meet those expenses — but if we could get more landlords to work with us to help get people on their feet, it would make a big difference,” she said.
Those at the Rescue Mission say they are seeing a similar need, with numbers increasing from an average of 55 people a night in Sept. 2021, to 118 per night in Sept. 2022 to 152 nightly this year.
John Muckridge, CEO of the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, said they’re even serving more meals to people now. And while the numbers paint a picture of what is going on, they’re not all-encompassing.
“There are definitely more homeless people here in the Valley than are staying here at the Rescue Mission, for sure,” he said.
Michaels’ mother, Ruth Shonce, said with the rising costs of rent, she would like to see more support offered. From the family’s condemned home in July, she recounted a struggle to find a job that supported the cost of rent elsewhere, which has reached over $800 a month.
“What they need to do is take some of these abandoned houses that they’ve got around, fix them up, and let a homeless person live in it, find a job, and then start paying for the house and utilities and stuff, but have the utilities on for them so that they can get cleaned up and get a job,” she said. “I’m sure every homeless person would want that.”
Those at agencies that WKBN spoke with say if a person is experiencing homelessness, they can call 211 to be connected with local resources.
This is part of a series of stories that WKBN is looking into involving local housing issues in the Valley. Do you have a housing issue that you’d like us to look into? Send us your information here.