Oxford works to create response to homelessness


Photo by Edward Orzech

Affordable housing for people at risk of homelessness can be difficult to come by in Oxford.

By Edward Orzech

Homelessness is a major problem in Oxford, according to city officials. 

City council has conducted research to put numbers on the problem and to plan a response.

Officials say they do not know the number of unhoused individuals in Oxford. Butler County has at least 39 families who have sought housing help from the social services, according to a study completed in October 2022. That number does not include families who have not reached out for support. 

Families classified as homeless do not necessarily live on the streets, said Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene. These families include those who are in danger of becoming homeless, families who are sheltering together and people who change residencies frequently. 

Greene said the city is looking for solutions to the issue, but plans are still in the early stages.

“We are actively exploring how to best address those who are at risk of homelessness or in homeless living… in our community,” she said. 

The city also wants to tackle the lack of affordable housing in Oxford. About 54% of renter-occupied households in Oxford pay more than 30% of their income toward rent, according to a Housing Needs Assessment conducted by Bowen National Research. This number may be inflated due to the high number of student residents who rent in the area and have no income, the report said. 

Greene said the city views two solutions to the problem. First, low-income rental housing needs to become available for people who are at risk of homelessness. Second, affordable housing needs to be built for those who are not at risk of homelessness but are still paying a large share of their income toward rent. 

The city has partnered with the Greater Oxford Community Foundation and its Needs Awareness Committee to conduct research and form a plan to solve the issue. 

The Needs Awareness Committee works with non-profit organizations and considers grants to fund projects, according to community foundation executive director Betsy Hope. She said she thinks it’s great that Oxford has made homelessness a key issue.

“Even though we may only have just a few homeless people,” she said. “It’s a few too many.”

She said the research conducted by the city and non-profit organizations is key to solving the issue before any building can begin.

“Before you kind of fix the problem, you have to sort of identify the problem,” she said. “Then figure out which solution is best fit for our community.”

The issue of homelessness has been increasing due to the effects of climate change. The extreme weather in the region especially affects those at risk of homelessness, according to Facilitator for Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice Ann Fuehrer.

“If there are droughts that destroy crops and food prices rise,” she said. “Then people have less to spend on things other than food, including housing.”

Fuehrer also said the homeless struggle with extreme weather such as cold, heat, tornadoes and floods. She said, in the event of varying weather, Oxford would benefit from constructing shelters to protect them.

Fuehrer will join a discussion co-hosted by The League of Women’s Voters and Oxford Citizens for Peace and Justice at 7 p.m. March 29. The program will explain the links between climate change and homelessness as well as discuss solutions to these issues in Oxford.

The meeting will be at the seminary building at 104 E. Church St. Karen Francis, Ann Fuehrer and Linda Simmons of the Oxford Homelessness Network and Mark Boardman of the City of Oxford Climate Action Steering Committee will discuss how climate crises impact the homeless population and how the community must prepare to meet the demands of resources needed for survival.

Even though construction of affordable housing is still far off, Greene said the issues are important to the city council.

“Increasing affordable housing has been a goal of city council for the past several years,” she said. “We’re actively taking steps to work on that.”