How One Columbus Apartment Complex Is Thinking Differently About Homelessness

Apr 21, 2017

Friday marks the grand opening of a new apartment complex that’s the result of a collaboration between the Community Housing Network and Ohio State University. Located near the university on East Ninth Avenue, Terrace Place provides a home to about 60 people who have struggled with addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

Sam Schuler, CEO of the Community Housing Network, says that mission is a result of an evolution in how organizations like hers think about solutions to homelessness.

“What evolved over time, I believe, is doing the supports on site," Schuler says. "That particularly came along as people with addictions and longer-term homelessness started to become people that people paid attention to.”

Now, Terrace Place is utilizing Ohio State resources to provide that support. The complex also houses an Ohio State extension providing financial counseling and workforce development.

Schuler says that type of in-house access makes a big difference to occupants who are working to get back on their feet.

“We went from a place where people thought that you had to be institutionalized if you were mentally ill, or if you had an addiction, you couldn’t be helped until you decided to be helped," she says, "to a place where we say, ‘No, there’s a proactive way to do this. We can build a house and we can provide the supports. We can reduce the harm that’s happened to people, get them off the land, move them into these units.’"

Terrace Place seeks to combat issues like addiction and mental health at the same time as homelessness by providing a safe environment.
Credit Terrace Place

Addressing issues like addiction, mental illness and homelessness all in one place, Schuler says, is critical to getting people back to self-sufficiency.

“You start with the physical health, and a lot of times, there will be an addiction too," she says. "So the next step is getting to that addiction. And then as you get through sort of the issues of the addiction, you find out, ‘Oh there’s actually been also some sort of trauma, and there’s some mental health issues, and that’s what caused all of this to happen.’ And now you peel that layer back and get to that piece, all while the person is in a stable environment so that the intervention you’re giving them is much more effective.”

The question of how to best serve the housing population is a pressing one in Columbus, where the rate of homelessness has risen by 20 percent over a five year period. Meanwhile, the overall homeless rate in the state has fallen by the same amount.

Schuler says there’s a reason for that.

“There are more renters now than homeowners," Schuler says. "The apartment rental rate is being driven up so that a person needs to be making almost $16 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.”

Schuler says that, despite Columbus' overall success, most of the popular jobs in Columbus don’t come close to paying that rate.

“There are definitely people who are enjoying this boom, there’s really nice apartments being built," Schuler says. "But there’s a big group of people for whom these opportunities aren’t there, and in fact, it’s the opposite. They can’t get a job that allows them to rent a safe, decent apartment at an affordable rate.”