EATON — Home Is The Foundation (H.I.T.) helps to provide affordable housing options to Preble County residents, and despite a global pandemic shutting down much of the country and the county, the H.I.T. Foundation powered through, never closing its doors to those in need during the past few months.
According to Clayton Genth, Executive Director of the H.I.T. Foundation, the work the foundation does is centered around affordable housing and keeping families in their homes safely and as long as possible.
This is done through a handful of services offered by the H.I.T. Foundation, including help with affordable housing through its 60 different rentals throughout Preble County, a senior home repair program and homeless shelter services.
“Any given time in Preble County, there’s close to 40 homeless people,” Genth said. “That includes people living on the streets, staying in emergency homeless shelters, whether it’s our emergency shelter or the domestic violence homeless shelter.”
The H.I.T. Foundation has operated since its founding in 2003 by board president and founder Mary Bullen, but as with any organization over the past few months, they have faced unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through the country.
“We started to see a real spike in the need of emergency housing assistance, and so one way we do that is we’ll temporarily shelter people in hotels when our shelter is full. We’ve seen a rapid increase,” Genth said. “We’ve already doubled the amount of people that we’ve served in emergency hotel stays compared to last year and we’re already halfway through this year or we’re just halfway through this year and double what we served last year.”
Not only has the staff been stretched thin due to the amount of help needed by those in the community, but with uncertainty gripping those who are in need of help, many have needed some extended help from the H.I.T. Foundation.
Despite those challenges, nobody needing help has been turned away as the H.I.T. Foundation has not closed its doors once since the pandemic began.
“We’re seeing longer stays, not only just in number of stays in the hotel, but those people are also staying longer in emergency hotels because affordable housing is very, very difficult to find in Preble County,” he said. “Then also, just with the pandemic, you know, balancing keeping staff safe, our board of directors has been very good. We were able to put some things in place that allowed our staff to work from home and still be able to serve clients in need. Thankfully, our doors — we never fully closed our operations here.”
With layoffs and financial hardships impacting many in the community, the H.I.T. Foundation is seeing many new clients who haven’t needed this help before.
Preble County already has 4,181 initial unemployment claims as of July 16, more than the 942 total initial claims in 2019 according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“We’re seeing a lot of new people that we don’t have any history with, people that have never experienced a housing crisis before,” he said. “They’re not repeat clients. That is often a stereotype. We certainly have not seen that this year, just a lot of people that have never been in this type of situation before and they’re scared.”
To stay open and as safe as possible for clients, the H.I.T. Foundation followed guidelines that were handed down from the state that included travel restrictions and quarantine recommendations for clients staying in the shelters.
“So early on, we were given recommendations for the shelter to quarantine and limit travel as [much as] possible for the 10 residents in the homeless shelter, so we did just that,” he said. “We limited some of the transportation services that we offer and did it for essential travel only to pick up medications, verified doctor’s appointments, verified employment interviews when those happened, verified housing interviews with landlords, but we were not doing other general transportation like we normally do to help people.”
These recommendations went as far as impacting how clients at the shelter could sleep.
“The shelter beds are lined up and people sleep side-by-side-by-side, and right away they asked us to start sleeping head-to-toe so heads were a little further apart.,” he said. “Then we were able to quickly build Plexiglas barriers in between the beds, or shields between the beds, so when people cough, breathe, sneeze in their sleep that the shield would deflect that from the person beside them. So we’re proud that nobody in our shelter has tested positive for the coronavirus during this whole time.”
With shelter clients feeling the biggest impact from these changes, Genth said that they were involved in discussions about how to implement changes in the shelter and that they understood the changes needed to be made to remain safe.
“The shelter clients have been very receptive and understanding to the changes we’ve made,” he said. “I think they understand why we’re doing it and appreciate a lot of those things. We’ve actually involved them in some of the process with the shields in between the beds to see what they wanted.”
Besides combating homelessness, the senior home repair program is another significant aspect of the work that the H.I.T. Foundation does. This can include larger projects such as installing wheelchair ramps or fixing water heaters to less essential jobs like lawn cleanup or cleaning out gutters.
Even with older residents being more susceptible to COVID-19, steps have been taken to ensure that these jobs are done safely according to Lindsay Watson, Program and Grants Management Coordinator at the H.I.T. Foundation.
“Our contractors for the emergency repairs have all been asked to wear a mask and maintain distance, stay on the porch to talk to them if it’s an outside project,” Watson said. “A lot of the clients are just super excited to get the help, and so they seem to be just really willing to work with us and the contractors during the coronavirus. Our projects have slowed down but they’re picking back up because we had to put a lot of them on hold just for the safety of the clients and contractors.”
As hard as the staff at the H.I.T. Foundation have worked over the last few months, they still needed help from the community to provide help to Preble County residents, and Genth said he was happy with the support that the H.I.T. Foundation received from the community, specifically from the German Baptist and Christian churches around the area.
“One thing that the HIT Foundation did a lot of times would serve leftovers for lunch or make sack lunches and kind of sandwiches for people,” he said. “But during this we recognized right away that may not be enough, and so we put an ask out to the public to help us provide more lunches and healthier style lunches. We did that and people really stepped up and donated money and meals and people were bringing meals in at all hours of the day so that we could feed the homeless population here.”
Those in need of help or that are interested in more information can contact the H.I.T. Foundation at 937-472-0500 or online at http://hitfoundation.org/.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @BradenMoles