Tour of shelters opens eyes

Mary McCarty, Dayton Daily News, November 2003

The participants in Thursday's "Thanksgiving Tour," including three Ohio legislators, are hardly new to the issue of hunger and homelessness. Yet at each stop they learned something they hadn't known before.

Nowhere was that more obvious than at the first stop of the daylong tour, the Daybreak Shelter, which serves more than 350 runaway and homeless teens every year.

"We have eight adult and family shelters, three animal shelters and one shelter for kids in the entire Miami Valley," Daybreak Shelter Executive Director Linda Kramer told some 30 visitors.

And that, she said, doesn't begin to meet the need. Daybreak, for instance, offers a self-sufficiency program, enabling teens from 17 to 21 to live in their apartments with intensive support services. "We have 35 slots," Kramer said, "and we get 900 calls a year."

Kramer spoke of the need for state funding to support youth shelters in Ohio. "The state of Ohio does not fund youth shelters," Kramer noted, "yet kids would be on the street, in the hospital, in jails, or be dead if they didn't have places like Daybreak."

State Rep. John White, R-Kettering, said he was touched by the presentation: "I keep thinking about the fact that there are only three animal shelters and only one youth shelter in Ohio and the Miami Valley, and also by the number of kids who were turned away."

State Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said he would like to see state funding for youth shelters. "With this state legislature as conservative as it is, I would use the fiscal argument rather than the social argument, though I believe in the social argument as well," he said. "But if you don't take care of these kids now, you'll pay for them later."

Tour organizers said the state reps were their target audience. "When they're talking about budget cuts and funding, we want them to know firsthand which programs we're talking about," said Lisa Hamler-Podolski, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, which co-sponsored the event along with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio.

Throughout the day, tour participants listened to a recurring theme: The demand for emergency food and shelter assistance continues to rise as funding shrinks. "The House of Bread has seen a 67 percent increase in the past 13 months," Hamler-Podolski told the group before they stopped there for lunch. "We're seeing a marked increase in families at soup kitchens, including individuals who work. Our statistics show that one in four people served at soup kitchens is a child."

State Rep. Dixie Allen, D-Dayton, took part because the tour focused on three issues she views as critical: Hunger, homelessness and welfare reform. "I saw on the news last night about people being evacuated from the Vietnam Veterans Park in Dayton," she said.

"Where do they go when they don't have a place to stay? With welfare reform, we encouraged people to go back to work and we'll take care of their children. Well, they're going back on that."

At the Miami Valley Child Development Center, Head Start parents talked of how spending cuts affect them. Stacie Jennings, 36, broke down as she said her 2-year-old daughter was being forced out of the program. "I became self-sufficient and made a little more money," said Jennings, the mother of four. "Why am I being punished for doing what they told me to do? I thought about going backward, taking a lower-paying job, just so she could stay in the program."

Finally, the tour bus led participants through Dayton neighborhoods heavily targeted by predatory lenders. Jim McCarthy, president of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, noted that foreclosure rates have hit record highs in Montgomery County. "In the ZIP Codes 45406, 45407, 45416 and 45417, one in every four houses is under foreclosure," he said.

McCarthy lamented that activists have been stymied in efforts to pass legislation to protect homeowners. "The legislature has not been receptive to our concerns," he said. "They don't seem to think this is a real problem."

Most attendees came away with renewed energy and commitment. "I was moved by the despair and lack of hope in the people that I saw," White said.

Daria Dillard Stone, program manager for Parents Advancing Choice in Education, said she has been working in human services in Dayton for the better part of 30 years. "I'm now seeing the grandkids of some of my original clients," she said. "So it's important to leave here and put what we learned into action. We leave here and we do what?"

[From the Dayton Daily News: 11.21.2003]

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