By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Eight hundred lanterns will illuminate downtown Findlay on Saturday evening, each light representing an individual served last year by City Mission of Findlay.
The luminaries are intended to dramatically illustrate the presence of homelessness in Hancock County while driving home a larger reality: that without the services of City Mission, those 800 lanterns would be replaced by 800 homeless individuals and families asking for help on the city’s sidewalks.
The effort kicks off the local observation of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which continues through Nov. 18. Throughout the week, City Mission is aiming to collect $150,000 in donations that will help carry the agency through the harsh winter months.
Joy Barger, City Mission executive director, estimates that 20,000 nights of lodging will be provided by the end of calendar year 2018. That nearly doubles the 10,349 nights provided in 2016 and is a steady increase from 18,640 in 2017.
Additionally, Barger reports approximately 60,000 meals will be served during 2018, up from 39,744 and 23,626 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.
Barger says City Mission staff anticipated an increase in services provided when it expanded its facility in 2016 from 6,000 square feet to 21,000 square feet, but the rate of increase has taken the agency by surprise. Even with Findlay’s continued growth, Barger says City Mission officials do expect the increasing demand to level off after this year.
Still, she says fundraising is essential to the organization, which does not receive government assistance and is funded entirely by private donations.
“Our services have increased, but our financial resources and our staffing capacity has not been able to increase at the same rate,” Barger says, adding the mission is currently staffed at only about 60 percent.
City Mission projects 730 individuals and 70 families will find shelter at the facility by the end of 2018. These figures are up from 450 individuals and 45 families in 2017.
Barger says it’s important for people to understand that in Findlay, those seeking shelter at the mission represent a broad range of the population. Many are families with young children, though high school seniors have been known to check themselves into the facility. Some are disabled or elderly individuals dropped off by family members who no longer wish to care for them. Others were simply one paycheck away from homelessness and were pushed over the edge by a lost job or a large vehicle repair.
“Homelessness here does not look like it does in an inner city,” Barger says. “Homelessness here looks like your neighbor.”
Barger says Saturday’s lantern lighting, which will begin at the courthouse and move south down Main Street, will be accompanied by information on the local homeless population and the services City Mission provides.
“You’re going to see it and go, ‘Whoa! That’s a ton of people,'” she says.
City Mission offers emergency service housing on a first-come, first-serve basis. This program allows people to check in to the mission at night and check out the next morning.
The mission’s reSTART program, however, promotes a longer-term solution. Those enrolled can reside at the mission for up to six months, though Barger says the average stay is about 90 days. The reSTART program (Skills, Training, Abilities, Relationships and Testimony) puts the burden of change on the individual, she says, pairing program leaders with clients to help them define goals and schedule service hours.
Donations can be mailed to City Mission at 510 W. Main Cross St., Findlay OH 45840.