By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
The moral authority to define the future lies with those who will live it.
– Rev. Starsky Wilson
Sometimes the truth just hits a person square in the face.
Within a few weeks in Toledo, two events happened.
In one, community leaders gathered together to celebrate the start of a new housing project. In another, community members packed a public hearing to oppose a new housing project.
The first project, accompanied by great fanfare and labeled a ‘game-changer,’ was a housing development venture for dogs. The second was for disproportionately Black, poor, and marginalized people. The latter project was met with backlash. Community members were referred to with disdain as “those people” in the public hearing.
Chronic homelessness is an urgent public health issue that strains our healthcare and criminal justice systems. Approximately one-half million persons nationally are homeless on any given night, and a third of those persons need assistance for various other problems. In Toledo, shelter waitlists are overflowing with eligible individuals and families that have sought emergency placement, according to Michael Hart of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board (TLCHB).
Most critically, nearly 40 percent of homeless individuals are African Americans and 20 percent, are, in fact, children.
Now don’t get it twisted. I’m personally in favor of a better facility for canine control. But our community’s leaders need to use the moral authority they were vested with when elected to reckon with the systemic racism and inequality embedded in Toledo’s policies and legislative practices.
Warren Commons is “permanent supportive housing” (PSH) where homeless persons can affirm their dignity. The project will provide 46 units for people facing or experiencing homelessness and linkages to needed services and resources. This is not temporary housing—the goal is to take the tenants off the streets forever.
The State of Ohio, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) are all keeping an intense eye on the project because Warren Commons is badly needed. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, there are only 42 affordable and available rental homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households in Ohio. This crisis is evident to me every day and among the congregants of my church.
The PSH model is also proven to be good for communities. It is a nationally-recognized and research-backed model with several benefits. It empowers people with disabilities to live with stability in the community and reduce their use of costly systems, especially emergency health care and corrections. The PSH model can also help people with disabilities receive more appropriate health care and improve their health. For example, a University of Pennsylvania study showed that those placed in PSH experience reductions of $40,450 per person per year in shelter use, hospitalizations, time incarcerated and other public costs.
Most importantly, perhaps, PSH provides more than just housing. Residents who have lived in PSH testified in a 2019 study that the experience helped build community, created a sense of belonging and enabled tenants to experience a far more positive standard of life.
Warren Commons will be funded through the OHFA. The last PSH in the Toledo area to receive funding from OHFA was The Commons at Garden Lake, a non-central city site, which has been incredibly successful in serving our community’s veterans. So, the project is both needed and will help the community.
Why are people opposing the PSH project? And why are we treating residents like strangers in their own community, accusing them of bringing in crime and drugs to a neighborhood where they already inhabit, and using terms like “those people” and “social services ghetto?”
Let’s keep it real.
The demonization of the Warren Commons project, which Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (TASC) proposes, is an attack on Black and Brown bodies, the poor, and other marginalized groups.
It is not surprising.
Among the NIMBYs (“not in my back yard”), marginalized populations like racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities and individuals living in poverty are all too often referred to this way.
I urge City Council to approve the Warrens Commons project. It will make our community fairer, healthier, and better and indicate that the inherent human dignity of all people is affirmed.
TASC deserves a great deal of credit for developing this impactful project and bringing state dollars home to our community. They certainly deserve as much credit as the people developing the shelter for the dogs.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org