In June 2019, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland (SOCF) awarded $40,000 to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) to support a policy strategy to increase state and federal funding to reduce homelessness across Ohio. One month later, the Ohio Housing Trust Fund saw its first increase in 16 years within the state budget, and the governor added $5 million annually to address youth homelessness.
COHHIO is a coalition of organizations and individuals committed to ending homelessness and to promoting decent, safe, fair, affordable housing for all, with a focus on assisting low-income people and those with special needs. SOCF has supported COHHIO’s work for nearly 20 years, and the organization has shown ongoing progress in effecting change for those individuals experiencing homelessness.
The Ohio Housing Trust Fund
According to COHHIO, most states have housing trust fund programs to make housing more affordable for their residents, but the Ohio Housing Trust Fund has one of the best track records in the U.S. It is a flexible state funding source that funds a wide range of activities to support affordable housing and homeless assistance initiatives throughout Ohio. Over the past 27 years, it has helped nearly one million Ohioans with a wide range of needs, while injecting billions of dollars into the local economy.
This year, COHHIO sought additional funding for the Housing Trust Fund to position the state to respond to rising homelessness, which has increased 20 percent over five years to more than 71,123 Ohioans, according to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. Children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population and now total 20,717 individuals, including nearly 3,000 babies under age 1, a population that has increased 53 percent since 2012.
Ending Homelessness at SOCF
Since its inception, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has prioritized addressing issues of homelessness in Northeast Ohio, and has invested millions of dollars in ongoing initiatives like Housing First and A Place 4 Me to support those experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as young people facing homelessness and aging out of foster care. While many philanthropic and nonprofit organizations have made tremendous impact in the community, senior program officer Angela D’Orazio says that informed public policy and sufficient public resources are key to ending homelessness.
“The solution to homelessness requires strong public sector partnership and policy change,” she said. “Philanthropy plays an important role in funding advocacy, urging political leaders to action and piloting innovative approaches that can be brought to scale with public investment.”
This is why it’s so important to have a partner like COHHIO at the state level, D’Orazio said. Their work involves educating legislators and the administration on issues of homelessness and housing instability, advocating for additional resources and strategic targeting of those resources to serve those most in need, and encouraging coordination among state agencies to more effectively serve homeless individuals and families.
“Our work with COHHIO is critical,” she said. “Their advocacy ensures that there is greater opportunity to access safe, secure housing for Ohio’s most vulnerable individuals, including youth who have aged out of the foster care system and young women at risk of infant mortality.”
In addition to work with the state government, SOCF also invests in coalitions for advocacy and public partners at a federal level. A Way Home America and Funders Together to End Homelessness are key partners and longtime SOCF grantees; Funders Together also supports funders to engage at a state level to expand their impact to end homelessness.
D’Orazio anticipates an increased focus on policy and advocacy in addressing homelessness as more communities begin to see results from their public/private collaborative initiatives.
“With smart coordination of private and public resources, as well as effective and accountable partners, we believe that we can achieve our goal of ending homelessness,” she said. “We’ve seen it happen in our community and across the country.”