YMCA of Central Ohio

West Side shelter opens to accommodate homeless families

Please see below for a recent article from the July 24, 2014 edition of The Columbus Dispatch about the new Van Buren Center. 

A renovated West Side warehouse in which boxes were manufactured now provides a resting place for homeless families.

The Community Shelter Board opened its newest shelter, at 525 Van Buren Dr., last night to about 40 families who couldn’t squeeze into the already-packed YWCA Family Center on the East Side.

“We’re providing a refuge of peace, hope and safety,” said Sue Darby, the executive director of the Downtown district of the YMCA of Central Ohio, which provides overnight staffing at the new shelter.

Built for 50 families, the YWCA Family Center has served more than 120 people at a time, with many of the kids and their parents ending up on cots, in churches or at motels because there were no empty beds.

The Community Shelter Board has even tried paying friends and family members to let homeless families stay with them, but it hasn’t stemmed the flow.

“The increase in family homelessness is absolutely astronomical,” said Michelle Heritage, the shelter board’s executive director.

Over the past three years, homelessness in Franklin County grew by 14 percent among single men and women and 65 percent among families, according to the shelter board. To meet this need, the board has spent an additional $1.5 million in motel and overflow-shelter costs, Heritage said.

Though it had long held out against a brick-and-mortar response, the shelter board decided the time had come for a new shelter, and it bought the former Columbus Paper Box property in the West Edge Business Center.

Families sent to the West Side shelter will spend the night in beds initially intended for single men and women through at least November. That’s when more homeless adults will come in off the streets looking for a warm, dry place to sleep, Heritage said.

During the day, the families will be taken to the YWCA Family Center for services.

The shelter board is raising money to build a permanent family shelter on the second floor of the Van Buren building. It is to have private sleeping rooms for families, a homework room and offices where clients can meet with case managers. It is to open by September 2015, and Volunteers of America will operate it.

“The dramatic increase in families seeking shelter is pretty unbelievable,” said Volunteers of America spokeswoman Nicole Knowlton. “It’s the children who are the most vulnerable and hardest hit.”

The $13.7 million shelter will serve up to 356 single men and women and 85 families in separate wings and will have a medical clinic and meeting rooms, Heritage said.

It will also serve as the new home for Rebecca’s Place, which currently provides shelter to 47 women in a run-down building on Rhoads Avenue on the East Side. The property’s previous owner went bankrupt, and the building went into foreclosure.

The relocation of Rebecca’s Place is expected to be completed by the end of this month. By mid-August, the shelter board expects to begin admitting single women. It won’t start taking men until November, when the weather starts to turn cold.

The shelter board is also unveiling a new program in October aimed at helping single adults move quickly into stable housing and steer clear of the obstacles that can push them back into homelessness. People will be assigned to case managers who will link them to housing, job training and medical and mental-health care.

People will be assigned to the same case manager if they end up back in a shelter, and that person will check on them after they’ve found housing, to make sure their lives stay on a positive track.

“They’re your person who will stay with you — no matter where you go,” Heritage said.

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