Citizens look to make affordable housing available for homeless

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HANCOCK COUNTY — While there is no overwhelming homelessness issue in the county, many area officials who work with community organizations are concerned one might be looming. With inflation reaching record highs and the cost of living stretching households, many community leaders fear several home owners will be overcome with increasing costs in the coming years.

A group of concerned citizens, working with officials from the Hancock County Community Organizations Active Disaster program, are hoping to establish an Attainable Housing Coalition of Hancock County to find real answers.

Jim Peters, director of the county’s COAD, said they’re trying to find affordable housing for people in need and are in the process of exploring options that might be available. Peters noted about 10 years ago the United Way was active in organizing a symposium on hunger. Many of the initiatives the group came up with there, Peters said, can be used to establish real answers to the affordable housing issues on the rise.

“Many of the issues we had surrounding food insecurity have been addressed because we get all the heads in the same room at the same time and we need to do that on the housing front,” Peters said.

The group will meet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Hancock County Emergency Management Center, 640 S. Franklin St., Greenfield, to discuss the topic. Anyone who is interested in joining the community initiative and would like to help or has some concrete ideas is encouraged to attend.

Peters noted the group is finally at a point where they need to start getting serious and formulating real plans to address affordable housing in the county.

Programs such as the Family Promise of Hamilton County, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to serving homeless families and their children in Hamilton County, is one Peters hopes they can look into and model after for dealing with homelessness locally.

“That organization participates in eviction court where they work with landlords so people are not evicted and we want to do that, be preventive and look at the whole continuum,” Peters said.

While Peters noted there are many outstanding organizations in the county such as the Hope House and warming centers, he said the county needs to find a lasting solution to deal with what the group feels will be a much larger community problem in the not-too-distance future.

“Right now we just don’t have one organization that provides a full continuum of the services we really need for these families,” Peters said.

He noted there is a true concern things are going to escalate significantly in the not-too-distant future and trying to address affordable housing issues then will be more difficult.

“There are a lot of people who are just getting by meeting their mortgage payment and because of increases in property insurance and property taxes going up, the people just making it are going to be in trouble real soon,” Peters said.

Some of the things the group hopes to do once it officially gets rolling is help develop more affordable senior housing, more housing for the disabled and ask for more Section 8 vouchers where payments cover some or all of the voucher holder’s rent.

“Part of our problem here in the county is people don’t feel like homelessness is an issue here because they’re not seeing the tents and homeless camps that you see on television,” Peters said.

Peters has been working with officials from the Hancock County Hope House, the United Way and the Hancock County Community Foundation to try and get a real coalition going. While he’s thankful for their ideas and support, Peters noted it’s going to take a great deal of work, financial support and planning from those organizations and other community leaders to tackle the project head-on.

“We’re exploring all options at this point and the first thing we need to do is determine who is going to drive this,” Peters said.

That issue is one of the reasons for the meeting next week, Peters noted.

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