By Nick Dutro
Although residents of Tiffin and Seneca County may not see homeless living on the streets every day, it is a reality for many. However, an initiative to address the need, and a tool to fight homelessness, is moving close to an opening date.
Located at a former bed and breakfast at 107 W. Perry St., Morrison House originally came out of the Mayor's Task Force for Community Assistance as an initiative to provide emergency and transitional housing for homeless individuals as they prepare to acquire and maintain permanent housing. The property could be opening as early as March.
"For me, the projects are extremely worthwhile, but I feel very validated by the community that steps up to do these projects," said Tiffin Mayor Jim Boroff. "This is something where people are really stepping up. This is what sets us apart, in my mind, from other communities - we take pride in what we're doing."
Like other projects which originated through the task force, Morrison House has become a community project. In this case, New Housing Ohio, which already has redeveloped three properties in Tiffin as apartment complexes and group homes, is to take over administration.
"We have been doing this since 1996. It definitely fits within our mission and we're really only replicating what we've been successful at in the past," said Scott Boone, president and chief executive officer of New Housing Ohio.
The house is to primarily serve individuals and families, some with small children. Renovations have been minimal, but include converting the third floor into livable space. The house is to have seven bedrooms, several bathrooms, a large kitchen and dining room, several shared sitting areas and laundry.
Unlike Boroff's early ideas of a homeless shelter from before he started the process - which he likened to as a "flop house," where patrons are given a bed and a meal and sent on their way - Morrison House is to provide support to get people back on their feet as well as shelter.
"We like to think that we create taxpayers," Boone said. "We're helping them gain employment (and life skills) to become a gainful member of society."
Karin Mobley, who is to serve as site manager for Morrison House and other New Housing Ohio properties, said she is happy to see it is to be place for education as well as provides emergency and transitional housing for those in need.
"It's skills that will later be carried out to life outside the shelter," she said.
Providing those life skills has been a mission of the task force, which has worked to establish the Getting Ahead project to provide instruction on
building social, financial and life skills, as well as some financial assistance for students who complete the course.
Boroff and Pat DeMonte, executive director of the Tiffin-Seneca United Way and task force member, said the program has been successful in Tiffin so far.
Morrison House already has received operation and capital funding through local and state organizations. Over the next bienium, $125,000 from Ohio Department of Development in operational funds and $80,000 from National Machinery Foundation in capital have been pledged for the project.
The site also received $25,000 through Tiffin Charitable Foundation toward the purchase price, and about $30,000 in community aid.
Although funds may be available as soon as January, Boone and Mobley said they are looking closer to March as an opening date.
"I'm just excited to start this adventure while helping the many under served people in our community," Mobley said.
Through the support of the task force and Terry Jones, senior minister at Christ Church in Tiffin, the property was purchased by New Housing Ohio, with the help of previous owners Jeffery and Katherine Morrison. The house is named after Jeffery's grandparents, Tiffin residents Kenneth and Anna Morrison, who took in young men as they aged out of Junior Home Orphanage in Tiffin.
"We have many people in this area who are homeless, but not necessarily living on the streets," Jones said. "I'm interested in helping those people."
Jones has continued his involvement with the project, through a seat on the task force and as chairman of the Morrison House Advisory Board, which is to work with the New Housing Ohio board of directors.
Locally, members of the task force said they are happy to be working with Boone and New Housing Ohio.
"Every project he has been involved with has been done, and done right," Boroff said. "Even if it's in a gray area, he's not taking any changes or cutting any corners. If we're going to be housing people and providing a secure environment for people, we want to make sure we're doing it right."
"He looks at individuals who are homeless, not homeless individuals," said DeMonte, who added she appreciates the amount of respect he shows for everyone he works with.
According to statistics from Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, 60 individuals in Seneca County were homeless during a count Jan. 25. In the count, 43 were without shelter.
Although the number is lower than 89 counted in 2010, it's a statistic that could increase at any time, DeMonte said, who has been a witness to more need through United Way programs in the past few years.
"It really goes along with what I do in my job, it's really part of what United Way is about," DeMonte said about Morrison House and the efforts of the task force. "I feel that we are improving the lives of people in Seneca County - not just giving them a handout, but a hand-up."
Morrison House is the latest of the projects being considered through the task force, which also is considering a project to aid children before and after school in the future.
And while Boroff may only have two months left in his tenure as mayor, he said the group - and its efforts - will live on.
"I'm not the lynch pin by any means," Boroff said. "This is something that should have a life of it's own. I'd love to see other groups form (community assistance organizations) in other areas."