Is a transitional housing program for men in Ottawa County about to become a reality in the near future?
Two forums scheduled for next week will explain “The Lighthouse” project’s need and discuss opportunities. The first meeting is May 20 at the Genoa Library and the second is May 22 at the Ida Rupp Library in Port Clinton. Both sessions start at 7 p.m.
The type of housing to assist men with drug and alcohol dependencies is badly needed locally say the project coordinators, Ottawa County Common Pleas Court Judge Bruce Winters and members of the 2013 class of Leadership Ottawa County.
It would provide a clean and sober living environment for men just out of jail or prison, the judge said. They would gain emotional and financial support while learning skills to put them on the road to self-sufficiency.
“When Judge Winters told us some of the statistics associated with that group of people, we were floored,” said Mary Winters, a Leadership Ottawa County member leading the project.
According to the judge, 70 percent of people involved in criminal cases in Ottawa County Common Pleas Court who take the mandatory drug tests fail. The drugs used range from opiates to pain killers.
“And you would think the people involved in drug trafficking would be the ones who failed the most,” Judge Winters said. Sadly, he added, “The highest rate is the men involved in child support cases.”
Leadership Ottawa County is an organization that brings together business and community members in a nine-month course to learn about the county as well as undertake projects that will improve the communities.
One of the program’s success stories is the creation of Joyful Connections, a supervised visitation site for children and their parents at the Riverview complex near Oak Harbor.
The current group agreed to take on the role of creating a steering committee for the transitional housing program and overseeing the forums. The 15-member committee consists of LOC members, social service staff, court personnel and local counseling agencies.
“What we are doing is trying to create awareness for the problem and find ways to get this off the ground,” Mary Winters said.
This really has a widespread effect on the community, she added.
Winters says she has become so passionate about the project she plans to stay on beyond her time devoted to Leadership Ottawa County program. There are six LOC members on the steering committee. Generally, the commitment ends shortly after the program ends. The Class of 2013 graduated May 15.
But Winters said many of those involved may stay on. “We all feel we just can’t leave. We need to get this project going,” she explained.
Others in the social services realm agree that this type of housing is necessary here.
“The single man is the most underserved community in Ottawa County,” says Linda Hartlaub, executive director of Ottawa County Transitional Housing. “There’s help out there for families and single moms with children. But if you are a single man, there’s not really anything available at most levels.”
And when Hartlaub gets those calls for help there is very little she can do but refer them to a couple of social service agencies. Or if, they are veterans, they might find assistance through the Ottawa County Veterans Service, she said.
OCTH oversees Ruthann’s House, a transitional housing program for women and their children. The home can serve six women at a time. But many times children accompany those fleeing bad situation.
“At one time we had six women and up to 15 children staying here,” Hartlaub said.
Ruthann’s House opened in 1994. The home was named after Ruthann Belknap, formerly of Port Clinton, who was instrumental in bringing the housing program to Ottawa County.
Ruthann’s House survives on an annual $250,000 budget, which includes the mortgage payment, provided by state and federal entities as well as United Way.
Women can live at the home up to two years while undergoing counseling, looking for a job and participating in a series of programs to gain confidence and to get them back on their feet.
Judge Winters hopes the transitional housing for men program doesn’t follow the regular funding path. That is, he wants to keep away from state and federal help as well as the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation for assistance if possible.
“I’d like to see this all done locally, maybe with the help of business and industry,” the judge said. He added a portion of the budget could be self-funded. That is, the men staying there would contribute to their living accommodations.
He’ll be talking to a panel of judges about the proposal this week in Cleveland.
How long will it take to get a men’s transitional housing complex operating? No one is sure given the multitude of factors such as finding a site, funding and creating a support system.
“But I’d like to think we could have something going within a year. It depends on where we land,” Judge Winters said.