How can the state of Ohio reduce homelessness?

Over 10,000 Ohioans experience homelessness in any given day. While President Trump has raised California’s 130,000 homeless as a national issue, three quarters of the country’s homeless live outside of California and need strategies for addressing homelessness, too.

Let’s start with some good news. Populations many cities have prioritized when fighting homelessness are veterans and chronic homeless. On both of these counts, Ohio compares favorably to its neighbors, experiencing lower rates of both veteran and chronic homelessness than all of its neighboring states.

Overall, though, Ohio’s rate of homelessness and gross number of homeless is larger than all of its neighboring states besides Pennsylvania, even though Ohio’s poverty rate is lower than poverty rates in Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia.

So what can Ohio do about homelessness? The state has three explicit strategies it can pursue to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Ohio.

Expand Emergency Housing Capacity

Emergency housing is a key tool for providing support to those experiencing intermittent homelessness. Emergency housing provides shelter, food, case management, health care, and housing assistance among other services. A 2004 study by the Lewin Group found that emergency housing cost about $25 per bed per day to operate. Adjusting for inflation, this comes out to about $34 per bed per day in 2019. This means that, for the cost of about $13 million, the state could pilot a program to provide emergency housing for 10% of the state’s homeless population.

Target Chronic Homelessness

Chronic homelessness is a different beast, usually exacerbated by mental illness, substance use disorders, and disability. Taking a bite out of chronic homelessness requires ongoing supportive housing that will prevent people from falling back into homelessness. Supportive housing required to tackle chronic homelessness houses homeless on a more ongoing basis, providing case management and employment services along with housing and utilities.

Utah’s effort to tackle chronic homelessness has reduced their chronic homeless population by over 90%. Using the same Lewin Group study’s estimate for the cost of supportive housing inflated to 2019 dollars, the state could create a program to reduce chronic homelessness by housing 90% of its chronic homelessness at a first-year cost of about $10 million.

Tackle Housing Affordability

While the previous two strategies are reactionary, the state can also take steps to make housing more affordable. Ohio is lucky to have a relatively low cost of living compared to other states across the country, which has kept average spending on housing below the “30% threshold” that can lead to elevated rates of homelessness. That being said, growth in areas like the Columbus metro area could lead to housing shortages. Strategies such as allowing for denser development like those taken by the state of Oregon and the City of Minneapolis recently could make it easier for developers to build more housing to meet demand. Housing subsidies to families could provide similar benefits, though at a cost to taxpayers.

None of these strategies will solve homelessness on their own, but they will reduce the number of people living in homelessness in Ohio, maybe even significantly. As Ohio sees increases in housing prices following the rest of the country, it will be incumbent on the state to be forward-thinking in how it handles this issue.