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Homelessness in Cincinnati: An Overview

Homelessness is defined by Strategies to End Homelessness as “sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation (such as on the streets, under a bridge, in a car), residing in an emergency shelter, or fleeing domestic violence.” 

Who is experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati? In 2018, 7,036 individuals experienced homelessness in Cincinnati. Of these, 1,784 (25%) were under the age of 18. 62% of people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton County are African American, despite African Americans comprising only 25% of the county's overall population. The total number of people experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati has declined 4% since 2013. While modest, this decrease is a good sign for changes to come

Affordable Housing & Homelessness Prevention Services

An important way to prevent homelessness is to make available ample affordable housing options. A 2017 report from the Community Building Institute at Xavier University revealed that Hamilton County is lacking approximately 40,000 units of affordable housing for its lowest income residents (those making $14,678 or less). This vast housing gap has only been increasing over time; Over the last 25 years, Cincinnati has lost 2,000 units of affordable housing in the Central Business District, and 2,500 units in Over-the-Rhine, in addition to losses in other parts of the city. Meanwhile, Cincinnati poverty rates are rising, from 22% in 2000 to 31% in 2017.

In addition to those experiencing homelessness, there are many cost-burdened households in Cincinnati. These are households spending > 30% of their gross income on housing. When households are in this precarious financial position, any kind of emergency expense (medical bills, job loss, etc.) can result in homelessness. This burden has disproportionate impacts on our city's African American population, with 49% of Black Hamilton County households being cost-burdened compared to 34% of households overall.

In response to these housing shortages, shelter diversion programs have been designed to focus on preventing homelessness for families in crisis by helping to identify immediate alternative housing arrangements and to develop plans for working towards permanent housing. Strategies to End Homeless estimates that it costs $1,250 to keep someone from being homeless, but $3,900 to assist them after they become homeless. Investing in homelessness prevention services is a cost effective way to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati.

Enter COVID-19...

On March 23, 2020, in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19, Governor DeWine issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state of Ohio, mandating that all residents not working for essential businesses or performing essential activities stay in their houses. This mandate and the accompanying social distancing orders were designed to limit social contact and calm the spread of the virus.

However, for an individual experiencing homelessness, following a stay-at-home order is easier said than done. Information about the severity of the disease and ease of transmission was slower to reach vulnerable populations without consistent access to news media. Meanwhile, area shelters struggled to balance between maximizing capacity and protecting those staying with them from a rapid outbreak. Extreme pressure was put on the network of homelessness relief organizations in Cincinnati to develop safe ways to continue serving those in need.

What Now?

Over the past few months, organizations all across the city have stepped up and adapted to these rapidly changing circumstances in order to continue serving community members in need. Throughout the last 4 months, Maslow's Army has funded the placement of over 260 people into area hotels, giving these individuals a safe place to practice social distancing, as well as access to regular meals, temperature checks, laundry services, safely distanced social activities (including a recent trip to the Cincinnati Zoo!), and more. Along with these efforts, Maslow's Army works alongside families and individuals staying at these hotels to help them secure permanent housing for the future.

How You Can Help

Explore volunteer opportunities with a range of organizations around Cincinnati serving people experiencing homelessness. Please note that, due to social distancing restrictions, volunteer opportunities may be reduced at this time, but there is always some way to help! 

Want to Learn (Even) More?
  • Learn more about the street outreach work being done by Maslow’s Army on their website and follow on Facebook for regular updates and community stories!
  • Check out this 2017 report produced by the Community Building Institute at Xavier University to examine Housing Affordability in Hamilton County.
  • Read “Home,” a 2019 report published by Strategies to End Homelessness detailing the demographics of Cincinnati’s homeless population and the range of programs developed to provide aid.
  • Subscribe to the Homeless Coalition newsletter to get up-to-date information on local organizations and their initiatives.

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