Hocking College has launched a program to help fight homelessness in Ohio.
Home at Hocking College is for Ohio residents who are experiencing homelessness. The college will provide housing, meals, on-campus employment and education for free this summer to those who qualify. A high school diploma is needed for the program, but the college will also help individuals obtain GEDs.
The program is spearheaded by Hocking College President Betty Young and a small executive team. It was conceptualized about a month ago and is already operating, Young told The Logan Daily News.
“It takes a lot of energy even to be poor,” Young said. “You have to figure out each day how to get from point A to point B. If you don’t have a vehicle or transportation, then you have to figure (that) out, (but also) how do you feed yourself on this day... And then you have to figure out where (you are) going to sleep today because (you) don’t have housing... (Think) about all the things you have to arrange in your life, just to survive yet another day. That’s poverty. That’s poverty that those of us who don’t live in poverty have a hard time understanding.”
Like many endeavors in the 21st century, Young’s idea was sparked by a Facebook post.
In April, Facebook users from across the globe criticized a post by the Nelsonville Police Department documenting its response to homeless encampments in the city, The Athens Messenger reported.
After seeing posts about the same subject — homelessness in Nelsonville — Young thought: “What can the college do?” For her, the college has a social mission, not only an educational one.
So Young approached Bill L’Heureux, a Nelsonville business and property owner, to use a couple of his properties as housing for the program. L’Heureux offered up two dormitories: Summit on the River, or simply Summit Hall, and Sycamore Hall, at 1100 E. Green Dr. and 1000 E. Green Dr., respectively.
“It works when we have a good relationship with the college and the community,” L’Heureux told The Logan Daily News. “We all work together to identify problems and work together to come up with solutions. We’ve got a good idea here. And hopefully we can work together to address the issues that we see (to) make the community better.”
The dorms, built in 1998, were chosen as they are suite-style, optimal for housing families; two double rooms connected by one bathroom. At the absolute most, the program would be limited to 25 individuals, Hocking College Digital Marketing Analyst Matthew Berry said in an email.
Each room is fully furnished and both dorms have a common area, kitchen, laundering and parking. The dorms are also conveniently located within walking distance to Nelsonville amenities, L’Heureux added.
The program received no special funding and comes out of Hocking College’s operations budget, Young said. It’s not every day people hand out food and housing to the homeless, she admits.
But the program isn’t without stipulations; individuals and families have to cooperate with the program’s requirements and services. Individuals must also pass a drug test, which in part Young attributes to the college’s inability to provide full rehabilitation services.
“If someone is unable to pass a drug test we’ll refer them to groups and agencies that can help with recovery,” Berry said in an email. The drug screening tests for 12 substances and will accommodate valid prescriptions.
Young and her team are working with local agencies, homeless shelters, police departments, libraries and others to spread the word about the program. A post advertising the program on the Athens County Department of Jobs and Family Services’ Facebook page attracted lots of local interest, Berry said. It currently sits at only five shares short of 700.
At least 20 calls from either agencies or individuals from across Ohio have reached out to the college already, Young said.
Young pointed out that unemployment , homelessness and poverty have a “snowball” effect: “Why do we look at somebody and say just, you know, ‘get a job.’ What, just ‘get a job’? Okay? Maybe I don’t have a cell phone that’s working, so an employer can’t call me, right? Maybe I don’t have clean clothes, I don’t have a place to shower — so I can’t come in for the interview to meet you.”
Young pointed to the program — and other services through the college — as things that can immediately fit the need of her examples; the college will help arrange employment, provide food and housing, internet access and even clothing.
The program can also help participants gain access to medical and mental health services by helping them make connections to the proper social services agencies, Berry added in an email.
Young recognizes how overwhelming it can be for people to “get back on track.” She went into the project understanding that homelessness can affect anyone, for any reason at any time. Nobody is immune to the unprecedented.
“We don’t really care about the reason,” Young said. “As long as you can be clean and sober with us, and you’re ready to reclaim your future, then you’re probably exactly right.”
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), as of January 2019, Ohio had an estimated 10,345 people experiencing homelessness on any given day. Of that total, 999 were families, 676 were veterans, 643 were unaccompanied young adults (ages 18–24) and 874 were individuals.
According to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 15% of Hocking County’s population lives in poverty, a little more than the state’s average at 13.1%; however, Nelsonville’s Athens County is at a striking 26.6%.
“Let’s face it — we live in Appalachia, and we live in Athens County, I live in Athens County,” Young said. “Yet, with Ohio University and Hocking College here, we’re still the poorest county in the state. And I don’t think that’s okay... Being from this region – (I) grew up in a holler about 60 miles from here – I’m committed to doing everything possible to alleviate that poverty.”
Young said the program is already adjusting to circumstances and will continue to adapt to its participants’ needs as it continues.
“What we’re finding out (is), there’s a lot of foster youth in our region that are aging out of foster youth,” Young said. “They really don’t have a next step or next place. There is some funding available for those and we can help them access that, but the problem is, it may take a little bit to access that. So for (them,) they may say, ‘what do I do, maybe live in my car, live in my tent?’ (But) we don’t want them to do that. Go ahead and come on over (to Hocking College), let me put you over here in housing, let me feed you. Let me get you to finish your GED. If you haven’t done that, let me start working with you on what kind of career you want. And once we figure that out, then we can start you on the classes to get you where you’re going.”
It will also focus on long-term education and certification planning, Young said. From degrees to driver’s education, the program will help individuals plan for entering the workforce.
“We’re going to help you get in a position so in the fall you can continue school, or continue your certification or be close to completing your certification even possibly by fall,” Young said.
According to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 89.1% of Hocking County’s population ages 25 and older have high school diplomas or higher, while only 14.4% have a bachelor’s degree or higher — compared to the general state population of 28.3%.
But it appears Athens County is much more educated, with 90% of its population having a high school diploma or higher, and 30.2% of its population having a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, Athens County’s household median income is $40,905, while Hocking’s is $52,363.
Currently, the program’s first participant is a woman in her early 20s, Young said, who has experienced homelessness, is two years sober and going to get her CDLs through the program. She will likely finish her certification by the end of the year, Young said.
Another individual had an intake arranged for Wednesday, Berry added in an email.
Interested individuals can reach out to Kim Coy by phone at 740-753-7040 or by email at email@example.com.
Keri Johnson is a reporter for The Logan Daily News Reporter