Could a tent city be a solution to homelessness in Toledo?
TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - A few weeks ago, an unhoused settlement was kicked off the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Toledo, but it wasn’t by the church.
According to people who witnessed the event, police ordered people to move off the church property and threw items away.
Pastor Mark Kwiatkowski, who works at St. Paul’s, disagreed with the situation. He said that people gather near the church because it offers necessary resources, like food, company, and help with paperwork.
“We are just one church, we don’t know what to do,” Kwiatkowski said.
He said homelessness is a larger issue and it takes the entire community to tackle.
“When people would call to complain, they would say it like ‘oh what are you doing about the people on your church,’ Kwiatkowski said. “And it’s like, these are Toledoans. This is a Toledo issue that we all need to address.”
Seeing a need, the pastor organized a panel event at St. Paul’s to gather community members, nonprofits and government officials to raise awareness for Toledo’s unhoused population, and start a conversation about what to do.
Gary L. Bonds was one of the speakers on the panel. He is a writer, actor, activist and someone who was formerly unhoused. He used to stay at St. Paul’s Community Center, a homeless shelter next to the church.
“We need to inspire people to do a little bit more across the board,” Bonds said, calling homelessness a systemic issue.
He said that as the weather gets colder, it is crucial that people have a place to stay, because every year people die of exposure to the elements.
Shelters in Toledo are at capacity, and the director of 211 said that there are 130 families and over 100 individuals on the waitlist for a spot.
Bonds said that one solution to house people is bringing resources together in a tent city model like the one employed in New York City for migrants. He said not only will having larger tents change the optics of an unhoused settlement, they could host full facilities, including showers, bathrooms, and heating systems.
“I would suggest something like that as a short term solution to have a tent city in Toledo that is always a tent city and that people can stay there,” Bonds said.
Kwiatkowski agreed that a tent city could be a solution, especially because it would bring different resources to one central area in a community effort.
“Nonprofits and churches and individuals as well as local government can all partner together to make something like that work,” Kwiatkowski.
Because St. Paul’s provides the community with needed resources, Bonds says it’s easy to see why unhoused people stay near the building outside.
“It’s a lifeline and you can’t ask people or expect them to walk away from something that sustains their life,” Bonds said.
Kwiatkowski was happy with the panel, although he said he wished more people who are unhoused would have attended.
Overall, he was glad to start conversations about homelessness in Toledo and bring different organizations together.
“My hope is that not everything would get solved tonight but that we could begin to develop those relationships,” Kwiatkowski said.
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