Bridges of Hope withdraws request for money

XENIA — Bridges of Hope, the faith-based organization which runs an emergency homeless shelter in Xenia, has withdrawn its request for financial support from the city.

Xenia City Council was expected to consider legislation Thursday authorizing as much as $20,000 to help the shelter survive through the COVID-19 pandemic. But BOH President Marlene Labig said the city was going to require the shelter stay open 24-7 for the duration of the state of emergency declared by Gov. Mike DeWine.

“We could not meet this expectations if that went on for months, certainly not at that level of funding,” Labig said in a text message. “We appreciate the offer, and we will work to continue to be responsive and work with the city to address the unique challenges of COVID-19 and the homeless. We will, with the help of our churches, businesses and individuals who support the ministry, continue to do what we are able to meet those needs.”

The letter officially withdrawing the request said BOH does “not expect to request further additional funding from the City for this purpose.”

BOH suspended its night-time sheltering services at the former Simon Kenton Elementary School building in late March due to coronavirus concerns which would have required additional staff, more supplies, and other needs in order to stay open. Guests received hotel vouchers, while others stayed with friends or family, while others camped out in tents at the shelter site.

During the April 9 meeting, City Manager Brent Merriman said BOH was still in need of funding and asked council for some direction. Merriman said $20,000 would be beneficial for the shelter and it could also use up to $40,000 in grant money from the county. He and other council members agreed that the city shouldn’t be the only entity contributing to BOH since homelessness is a county-wide issue.

Council voted 6-1 to authorize city staff to develop legislation for members to consider. Cody Brannum voted no, while Mayor Sarah Mays expressed some concerns but felt a one-time contribution during the pandemic may be appropriate.

Council President Wes Smith said all money would have come from the county grant and no street program money or operating expense money would have been used. He also expressed concern about the negativity toward the shelter and BOH.

“As council members, we know we have real challenges that aren’t going away tomorrow,” he said via email. “As elected leaders, we have to have compassion especially for the homeless while being responsible to the community as a whole. We all share a common humanity. Speaking for myself, I am a little disappointed in the recent backlash against Bridges of Hope. With skyrocketing unemployment, a lot of Americans right now are one paycheck away from poverty, if they are even fortunate enough to still have their job. Xenia isn’t a ‘City of Hospitality’ when we lash out at a homeless shelter providing for people’s basics needs of food and toiletries. As American’s we should all be afforded the right to live with an adequate measure of public safety and dignity.”

Labig said the shelter is operating once again, opening at 6 p.m. and closing the next day at 12 p.m. with limited numbers in order to safely keep social distance in the gym. It’s also serving three meals a day.

“Some of our guests are still being put up in motel rooms by other agencies,” Labig said.

A request for funding initially came in January when BOH Vice President Will Urschel the shelter would like to change and expand hours of operation and eventually offer a daily afternoon program to its guests. He said the additional cost would start at $2,215 monthly to cover additional staff and supplies, and eventually rise to $2,912 monthly when future phases are started.

By Scott Halasz

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Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.