$87,000 cut from Miriam House funding

Cary Ashby • Apr 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this month it wasn’t renewing funding for Miriam House in Norwalk for the 2019/2020 fiscal year.

Miriam House, which started operating in 2000, is a transitional housing program for women and mothers with children who would otherwise be homeless. It is open to the 19 counties covered by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo, which includes Huron, Erie, Richland, Sandusky and Seneca counties.

“It’s a safe haven. Very often they are victims of domestic violence … but that’s not our target audience,” executive director Rodney Schuster said.

With HUD not renewing its funding, Miriam House housing coordinator Vickie Smith said it amounts to “a significant budget void in the amount of $86,744” — funding which “historically (has) been fulfilled at the request of the recommending agency.” She said the annual budget is between $181,000 and $185,000.

However, the community shouldn’t be concerned that Miriam House will close.

“We remain committed to serving homeless women and children in Huron County,” Smith wrote in an outline of the situation.

“This is a substantial loss to the budget of Miriam House. Catholic Charities is committed to continuing the services offered by Miriam House,” she added. “This will create a hardship as the funding that has been supplied by HUD supports many operational costs. These operations will impact staffing, repairs and maintenance, as well as utilities.”

One of the impacts of no funding from HUD is a possible delay in staffing Miriam House 24-hours, 7 days a week.

“The need for 24/7 staffing continues to grow. Miriam House has maintained (a) 100-percent capacity over the past year-and-a-half,” Smith said. “(A) change in HUD priorities has eliminated or reduced funding for transitional housing in some areas of the country. For example, transitional housing was eliminated in Lucas County.”


Housing capacity, statistics

Miriam House has six rooms. Smith told the Reflector that the facility often maintains six to seven adults on average and “at any time, we might have 10 to 12 children in the house.”

The average range for staying at Miriam House is six months to year.

“The women we get in are not ready to be on their own,” Smith said.

Miriam House residents are given an individualized case plan, tailored to their needs to help them transition to being self-sufficient. Smith said the goal is for the women to move into their own housing, which sometimes could supplemented with vouchers, and during that process, staff members look for an increase in the women’s income.

Miriam House had a 100-percent occupancy in 2018 and a 93-percent success rate for adults ages 25 to 64 in 2018. Smith’s statistics also indicate there was a 33-percent success rate for women who were 18 to 24 years old, based on 90-day stay, last year.

“Miriam House provides a safe place for women who are pregnant to have their babies. Over the last year-and-a-half, we have seen an increase in women who are pregnant and homeless. Several shelters that accepted pregnant women have closed, leaving Miriam House as a solitary resource between Cleveland and Columbus for mothers to be,” the housing coordinator wrote in her report.

In 2018, Miriam House admitted 28 women and 31 children.

“Twenty one of the women have a history of domestic violence and 13 were fleeing the abuse at the time of admittance,” Smith said in her report.

Two domestic violence shelters are available for Huron County residents — in Sandusky and for the the southern half of the county, Mansfield.

“This has represented a barrier for some women seeking emergency shelter in Huron County, which Miriam House has been able to bridge,” Smith said.


Financial support and future plans

Current financial support for Miriam House comes from: Grants from the Huron County Mental Health Board and county commissioners; the United Fund of Huron County plus individual and corporate donors in the county. Possible renewals from the Huron County Mental Health Board and United Fund are up for renewal in July.

“We are looking for an increase in funding from our current grant-funders,” Smith said.

“I think the community of Norwalk has been very generous,” added Schuster, referring to the United Fund.

While the executive director said he realizes “we’re not alone” in needing financial assistance, “we are fortunate for that level of funding.”

Another part of the revenue plan includes re-applying for funding from two sources — the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and two-year funding from the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA), which oversees homeless assistance grants.

Schuster said Catholic Charities has received money from VOCA for its adult advocacy services program two years in a year and Miriam House has received support from ODSA in the past. Smith, in a separate interview, said VOCA recently declined to support Miriam House because officials said they were looking to decrease their funding and weren’t accepting new applicants.

“My understanding is they didn’t have the funds to support us,” she added.

Finally, Miriam House officials plan to reach out to the community for donations.

“There are some great supporters in Norwalk and Huron County,” Schuster said.

Smith, in her report, said Miriam House “will need additional funding to continue to cover the overall cost of operating the house,” its maintenance, staffing and the “security of the property, food and client assistance for those living at the house.”

Anyone who is interested in donating to Miriam House is encouraged to call 419-668-3073 ext. 8214 and ask for Vickie Smith.

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