© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Homelessness is rising in Northeast Ohio. Officials say rising housing costs, addiction are to blame

A worker from a waste management company takes down the tent Alvarado and Kamer were using for several months, despite a sign taped to it that says they wanted to re-claim that property.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
In this picture from December 2022, a worker from a waste management company takes down the tent that two people experiencing homelessness had been taking shelter in for about two months. According to Summit County data, the number of individuals living on the streets more than doubled over the past year.

After steadily declining for almost a decade, homelessness is on the rise in Northeast Ohio.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires counties to keep track of the unhoused population each year through surveys called Point-in-Time (PIT) counts. In January, homeless outreach groups go out to encampments and shelters across the county and ask individuals for information, such as how long they’ve been without housing and what kind of support they need.

Finalized PIT count data for Summit and Stark counties showed a big spike in 2023, after years of steady decreases.

“We had spent the last several years slowly being able to reduce our homelessness, and then in just one year, to have everything completely come unraveled, and to see those kind of numbers, is really kind of eye-opening for a lot of people,” said Michael Harhager, supervisor of homeless services for Community Support Services.

CSS is a nonprofit that provides services for individuals experiencing persistent mental illness. The group leads Summit County’s PIT count.

In Summit County, the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness jumped from 441 at the PIT count in January 2022 to 648 this year, according to the PIT count data. That includes people in emergency shelters and transitional housing, as well as people who are living in encampments outside, Harhager said.

The unsheltered population — people living out on the streets — more than doubled over the past year, from 53 to 154.

The growing lack of affordable housing, rising rent costs and addiction issues seem to be root causes, Harhager said.

“Mental health and addiction … just have a completely different look to them right now,” Harhager said. “The substances that are going around are just, they’re just a lot more serious of drugs and really affecting people in a lot more severe ways.”

Stark County’s PIT count showed 320 people are experiencing homelessness — the highest number the county has seen since 2016, according to officials at Stark County’s Continuum of Care. Of those, 56 were considered unsheltered.

CSS and other agencies in Summit County are now working to strengthen local outreach efforts by connecting individuals with substance abuse and mental health resources, Harhager said.

But they’re also calling on federal officials to help, he added.

“This is bigger than just homeless outreach. This is a nationwide problem that we’re facing,” Harhager said. “We’re going to really have to start looking at some creative policies and some federal solutions to really start addressing this issue that we’re seeing.”

Advocates hope to create permanent housing programs in the county, he said. They also plan to ask for federal funding for more housing, primary care and mental health resources for unhoused individuals.

Updated: August 30, 2023 at 12:18 PM EDT
This story has been updated to clarify the services provided by CSS.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.