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Toledo organizations working to solve rapid increase of first-time homelessness

First-time homelessness is up 800% in the Glass City.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Sean Dykstra came to Toledo from Grand Rapids last summer, hoping to escape a troubling lifestyle at home.

"A lot of people in my family were on drugs, and I wasn't on drugs myself. I just didn't want to go down with the sinking ship," Dykstra said.

But Dykstra lost his job, and his constant battle with PTSD made finding a new one challenging. Unable to support himself, he now survives on the streets as best he can.

"Well honestly I sleep under a wheelchair ramp under a church, because my PTSD won't let me sleep in the mission," Dykstra said.

Dykstra is one of five to six hundred adults living on Toledo's streets with many, like him, becoming homeless within the last year. The rising numbers are an issue that people working with the homeless community have noticed, such as Steve Piller, the COO of Cherry Street Mission.

"Certainly our guests are feeling the pressure of this economy, as some have been relieved from their homes because of rent and other issues," Piller said.

Piller said these rent issues come from the end of eviction protections from the federal government and rising prices due to inflation. It's caused the amount of homelessness to rise significantly; with first-time homelessness up 800% in Toledo, and Cherry Street Mission going from serving about 6,000 meals a month to some 10,000 meals.

Piller said inflation hasn't just affected their guests, it's affected them as well, with a box of eggs that once cost $17 last year now costing $42. 

But even with rising inflation costs, Cherry Street is fighting back against increasing homelessness. They now offer on-site auto tech and welding classes to help people find high-paying jobs and even helping people find safe and affordable housing.

For Lorna Holley, who also became homeless within the last year, she's already seeing her life come back together.

"They helped you with everything you need, your birth certificate, they pay all of your court fees that you owe, they pay off your rent, they help you out a lot here," Holley said.

Cherry Street Mission isn't the only organization trying to solve increasing homelessness in the Glass City. A collection of community organizations, in conjunction with the Lucas County Commissioners' office, have come together to solve these issues with a program called the Eviction Prevention League. 

This program combines the efforts of multiple local organizations such as The Lucas County Homelessness Board, the Housing Authority, ABLE and Legal Aid, giving folks access to all of their resources in one single phone call.

The very day it was announced, organizers said the program was able to help keep people in their homes, and since then the program has helped keep hundreds of people off of the streets.

"We don't want it to get to a point where eviction is the last resort. If we can support a solution before that point, whether you're a landlord or a resident who might be dealing with a situation of housing instability or a potential eviction, please call us and we want to work with you," Michael Hart, Executive Director of the Homelessness Board, said.

If you need help staying in your home, call 211 to speak with a member of the Eviction Prevention League.


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