Mahoning County Com- missioner Anthony Traficanti minced no words Thursday in describing one of this nation’s most pernicious social ills: “This homelessness issue in America has become a plague.”
In Ohio alone, that plague has stricken at least 60,000 people, according to a study and census released earlier this year by the Ohio Human Services Data Warehouse. As that advocacy group for the homeless points out, that total represents more than the entire populations of Vinton, Monroe, Noble and Morgan counties in Ohio combined.
The malady of homelessness too often breeds a wide set of related symptoms ranging from abject poverty to substance abuse to mental illness to criminal behavior.
That’s why it remains so critically important that the homeless, many of whom shun any spotlight or pride-stripping charity, get the help they need in our nation, state and community.
This week, Mahoning County took one giant leap toward the long-term goal of eradicating that plague through receipt of grant funding to establish a program to find permanent and suitable shelter for the ranks of homeless military veterans in our midst.
Specifically, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday awarded a $741,851 grant to finance housing for homeless veterns in Mahoning County. The county, with the help of the Family and Community Services agency in Ravenna, will use the grant to provide housing to about 15 down-on-their-luck veterans.
Leading the charge to establish the program has been Mahoning Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti. “It’s a good day for veterans in the Valley,” she remarked upon word of the grant’s approval.
Rimedio-Righetti, many will recall, has been on the front lines for many years in searching for solutions to homelessness among Valley veterans. She was the architect of a proposal over the past few years to renovate about 18,000 square feet of the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place into transitional housing for homeless female veterans. Unfortunately, state legislators did not see fit to include funding for that deserved project in their capital-improvements budget earlier this year.
While we hope Rimedio-Righetti and her robust corps of allies continue to work for realization of the Oakhill project, we’re nonetheless pleased by the launch of this new program.
Clearly, the need is great.
According to Dr. Robert Marcus, a homeless veterans’ outreach coordinator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Portage counties, an estimated 1,000 homeless military veterans suffer in his service area alone.
Given that estimate, it is shameful that Mahoning County has had no dedicated beds or shelters for homeless veterans. Matthew Slater, director of veteran services for Family and Community Services, called that glaring void “absurd.”
The program promises a sturdy foundation for a strong start, considering it will involve partnerships with government entities, veterans service groups and the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority.
Such community-based programs maintain a solid track record for success. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has found that the most effective programs are “community-based, nonprofit ‘Veterans helping Veterans’ groups. The Veteran will feel a greater connection when the community reaches out to help, encouraging him or her to ‘pay it forward’ to other Veterans.”
Of course, this program will not be capable of responding to the needs of all homeless veterans in our region. That’s why continued aggressive campaigns to seek out funding and other resources for broader programs must continue.
On the federal level, more community assistance to help homeless veterans would be available with passage of the Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2017. We hope our region’s congressional delegation would work to help move that legislation out of the Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee, where it has been stuck in the muck since January 2017.
For the time being, however, the new Mahoning County program holds much promise.