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Unison Health focusing on meeting basic needs to ensure homelessness doesn't last

The belief is that by prioritizing meeting basic needs, Unison Health's Housing First model sets up future success for clients struggling with homelessness.

TOLEDO, Ohio — According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, as of January 2020, an estimated 10,655 Ohioans experience homelessness on any given day

Local agencies like Cherry Street Mission and Unison Health found that number has only gone up due to the pandemic. 

Unison Health's Housing First program prioritizes housing for those struggling with homelessness by working to meet basic needs first. The belief is that this model sets clients up for future success. 

WTOL 11 was able to speak with a client who has housing through the program, but due to privacy and confidentiality agreements, her name has been changed. 

"Kendrah" has worked with Unison Health for almost two years. She sat in Unison Health clinical specialist Ronell Scott's office surrounded by words of affirmation all over the walls that reflect her story. 

"Hope is real. Hope really exists and there are still good people in the world," Kendrah said. 

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She recalled being displaced after a natural disaster more than four years ago, and then having to live out of her car for four years. Kendrah noted that she just hoped for a better life for her and her daughter, so they moved to Toledo.

After working with other programs over the years, she eventually discovered Unison Health through her church, which introduced her to their Housing First program.

"If you're willing to work, no matter the means, we will go above and beyond to assist you," Scott said. "Whether you want it or not. I'll battle with you. If you're willing to battle too."

Scott has worked for Unison Health for five years. Though the Housing First program has only run for the past two years, Scott says under her leadership it has already gained a 96% success rating. Of the 59 placements in the program, there has been one eviction, and three deaths. 

But she explained nothing is perfect and it's the goals of positivity that keep her and the program going. 

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Scott noted that one of the most important parts of the program is building trust with clients like Kendrah. She said it's important, because many of the clients that work through their doors have been to other programs that have let them down, judged them or blamed them for their situation.

Kendrah admitted she initially didn't believe Scott. When she first reached out for help with housing, she left for fear of being let down. Scott said it took a month of convincing and building trust to get Kendrah back. 

Kendrah was especially hesitant since they started her process around the beginning of the pandemic.

"(I thought) 'Well shoot they probably wont help now,'" Kendrah said. "It actually sped up the process and they helped out faster," Kendrah said. 

Once she came back to Toledo, Scott found her a home in three days. 

Another issue that made Kendrah believe Unison Health's promise of a home too good to be true, was the mention of her mental health. She said her struggles with mental health began as a child and plagued her life. 

She said trying to find housing and proper health care caused a processing nightmare. She said the issue of mental health caused road blocks and almost made her give up hope she'd ever find a program right for her. 

But Unison Health found her in an apartment with her daughter in no time.

"It's like a new life," Kendrah said. "I just didn't think that was possible and you living in a car and trying to eat whatever you find. People deserve second chances."

She added those who are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse have probably gone through the same issues. Thus, Unison Health's approach to homelessness is one she believes works for many different clients.

Scott added that she's proud of Kendrah for thriving. Her client has already kept her home for a full year, and sees nothing but good things in the future.

"What happened in the past is the past. We're looking towards the future," Scott said. 

Scott added that if Unison Health can't help, the nonprofit makes it their mission to find the program that can.  

For more information about Unison Health's Housing First Program click here. There are a few qualifications you must meet for the program: 18 years or older, have been homeless for at least nine months or more over a three year period, and take an assessment to see what programs fit you best.