Tonia Pace: Shedding Light on the Reality of Homelessness

By Asia Nail
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

He begs with a cardboard sign, drinks secondhand coffee, smokes cigarette butts and sleeps out in the open. You’ve seen her a hundred times, on street corners, sidewalks and at intersections, asking you for help.

This may be the image of an average person suffering homelessness, but in most towns like ours here in northWest Ohio, being ‘unhoused’ can take many forms.

Executive Director of local Family House, Tonia Pace, sheds light on the realities of “hidden homelessness” in Toledo, a phenomenon that’s difficult to measure — and sometimes, to detect from the outside at all.

Family House has been a non-profit shelter dedicated to keeping families together in times of crisis in Toledo for the past 36 years.  Located at 669 Indiana Avenue, the shelter offers a variety of programs and services that are family-centered to meet the needs of each individual family member.

Family House’s mission is to provide families who are experiencing homelessness with safe, temporary housing and supportive services while empowering them to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.

As the executive director of Family House, Pace brings extensive experience in the social services sector, having previously worked for Lucas County Juvenile Court, Erie Court Juvenile Court, The Salvation Army and Ashford University as an adjunct instructor.

Pace, a graduate of Sandusky High School, earned both master’s and doctorate degrees while employed full time and helping her husband raise their two sons. “I’m not a stranger to hard work. The people we assist aren’t either, people just need help sometimes,” shares Pace.

Established in 1985 by the African American Ministers of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA), Family House was locally known as The Toledo Community Service Center in its early years. Through the years Family House has consistently nurtured the family unit while welcoming the disabled, the down-trodden, the abandoned and the hopeless.

In 2020, amidst a pandemic, Family House served 215 adults and 262 children, encompassing a total 151 households. Last year residents stayed collectively for an average of 75 days.

“We’ve been here for those in need for 35years,” says Pace. “Although we’re not an actual ministry, everyone who works here has a true heart to serve people.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, almost 12 million children in America were estimated to be living in poverty — a burden disproportionately endured by kids who are Black or Latino.

The traditional head count of sheltered and unsheltered people — that is done as a HUD funding requirement every year — doesn’t begin to paint the picture they know to be true today. There are more people who are precariously housed, shuffling among friends and relatives, and sleeping in cars, ‘doubled up families’ and people living in extended stay hotels than we know.

Among women and families with children, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness. Many of the forces producing new homelessness, however, have been ongoing since the1980s. Mass incarceration created generations of people with criminal records, the large majority of whom are black and brown. The prison to homelessness journey has essentially locked many out of job and housing markets. Drug epidemics, lack of access to medical care and exponentially increasing medical costs have continued to push the sick and disabled into homelessness as well.

Executive Director Tonia Pace

Lucas County also has a significant population considered to be chronically homeless —people who have been homeless for at least 12 months and can be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, mental illness, or a physical or developmental disability. About one quarter of the nation’s unhoused population are thought to be chronically homeless.

Within the chronic population, African Americans experience homelessness at significantly disproportionate rates. Blacks experience homelessness at a rate five times greater than Whites. Research from the National Alliance to End Homelessness attributes this disparity to longstanding discrimination in the criminal justice system, in the rental housing market and in the healthcare system.

Many volunteers and those who have been helped by Family House have shared reviews of their experiences. Most share they learned something they didn’t know before coming to Family House and many gained insight and new perspectives about everyday people and the personal struggles they face. “I would highly recommend volunteering to anyone wanting to widen their scope of understanding,” says Pace.

“We are proud to still have one of the Founding Pastors, Bishop Robert A. Culp of First Church of God, still serving on our Board of Directors today,” says Director Pace.

Upon inception Family House only served women and children but when they realized this formality may have separated some households, they decided to accept entire families in keeping with their mission.

“Our focus is the family unit but we rarely turn anyone away,” shares Pace. “Are you or do you know a family in crisis? If you are a married couple with or without children; an unmarried couple with children; a same-sex, cohabitating couple with or without children; a single parent; or a single pregnant woman in Toledo please contact Family House.”

Family House admits residents via United Way by dialing 2-1-1 whether in an emergency situation – women experiencing domestic abuse; natural disaster victims – or victims of unemployment or financial hardship.

Family House has joined forces alongside 3 local charities with the shared goal of raising awareness about the issues of hunger and homelessness that plague nearly 1 in 5 in Lucas County.

The Homeless Services Partnership (HSP) is a collaboration with Family House, Aurora Project, Bethany House, and La Posada/Catholic Charities to raise awareness of the various forms of homelessness and the diversity of services needed to transform lives.

This 2021 season of gratitude please consider sharing your compassion with our neighbors who are experiencing hunger and home instability.

NATIONAL HUNGER AND HOMELESSNESS AWARENESS WEEK is held annually the week before Thanksgiving. Ohioans are invited to The Homeless Services Partnership’s DONATION DRIVE on Saturday, November 13th.  Please bring items from Family House’s WISH LIST ( to the Franklin Park Mall parking lot facing Sylvania Ave. in front of Old Navy and Dave & Busters between 11am-3pm.

Family House is also on a mission to have 1,000 people make a monthly commitment of donating $5 per month for the next twelve months.  That’s only $60 per year.  You can make a one-time donation or break the donation up over twelve months via paypal or cash app. For those who are able to donate physical goods, Family House is always in need of personal hygiene items, paper products and cleaning supplies. An Amazon wishlist with delivery direct to the shelter is also available for those who prefer donating online.

Executive Director Pace and the staff at Family House go above and beyond to help their residents with the journey from temporary housing to stable living and gainful employment.  When asked how Family House has garnered such a high success rate for re-homing, Tonia says, “Our secret is good ole’ respect and compassion.”

She shines a bright light on how all people deserve to feel a sense of belonging, thus discovering the real meaning of ‘family’ in Family House.

You’re not a ‘bad’ person because you end up in a bad situation. It’s just a situation, it is not who you are. The Family House provides rooms, meals and a full support network for homeless families trying to work or go to school.

“Homelessness can impact anybody,” shares Director Pace. “We are not just a place to stay. We are also providing wrap-around services. We’re helping people move through the tough points in their lives.”

If you are in a homeless situation, don’t give up and don’t give in. The Family House staff and their volunteers work hard for others everyday proving life is not about things, but about people. Founded by a legacy of African-American ministers, Family House gives the City of Toledo a great gift, reminding us that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Follow Family House on social media where they provide jewels to the world with brief insights into the community they faithfully serve.