Sasha Smith, a 26-year-old mother of five, arrived at Family House shelter in Toledo with her kids six months ago. She's still there, waiting for permanent housing. Her plight reflects the problems of many homeless people since Toledo switched to a 211 help line and centralized intake system earlier this year.
“The 211 system is jacked,'' Sasha told me Thursday at the shelter.
I'll talk more about her, and the entire issue, in a Sunday column. A video of part of our conversation will also appear online.
If you talk to the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board, Mayor Michael Bell, and other defenders of the new system, Toledo's version of coordinated assessment is working well and better every day. United Way, which runs the 211 line and now places homeless people who are in short-term emergency shelters into permanent housing, says backlogs have ended.
But shelter directors and the people they serve say the system continues to disrupt Toledo's historically excellent homeless services.
A few weeks ago, I was with a homeless family in downtown Toledo. A 211 operator told the father the shelters that night were full. But I learned the following week that Family House had an opening that same night. Apparently, it didn't show up on the centralized system's list of available beds.
Mistakes like that probably don't happen often, but once is too much for people in crisis.
Anyone over 35 should recall Public Enemy's urban anthem, “911 is a Joke.” The rap group's hit song reflected the experience of a lot of people in hoods across America. Calling 911 was about as helpful as a hangman.
Is Toledo's 211 call line and new coordinated assessment system also a bad joke? Or will the city, Homelessness Board, and United Way continue to fix the problems and soon provide better-than-ever services to Toledo's homeless people?