MANSFIELD — What does it mean to be unhoused in Richland County? 

Officially, it means lacking a permanent place of residence. But what does that actually look like? What are the far-reaching effects? And what responses are being deployed to help?

Complex problems deserve comprehensive solutions, and no problem is more complex than the issue of homelessness in Richland County. 

That’s why the next solutions journalism series we’ll study at Richland Source is “Unhoused,” exploring and explaining what it means to be without a place of residence in Richland County.

Homelessness is an issue to be solved. And the people you may encounter in this series are unhoused. They are experiencing homelessness — an intentional language choice you will notice in this series. 

Housing advocates have recently shied away from the term “homeless” to describe someone who is lacking a place of residence because of its derogatory connotations.

The social impact startup states the term implies one is “less than,” and it can “undermine self-esteem and progressive change.” 

The term “unhoused,” by contrast, intentionally implies that there is a “moral and social assumption that everyone should be housed in the first place.” 

Our choice of language is intentional so we avoid contributing to the over-generalization of unhoused people, and stigmas against them, by using sweeping terms like “the homeless” that distill someone’s entire identity down to the fact that they don’t currently live in a house. 

As Kelly Blankenship, executive director of Harmony House, said, a person experiencing homelessness is still our neighbor. They’re still a member of our community. We are all one financial crisis away from finding ourselves in a similar situation. 

Our series will feature stories from our team of journalists that start with the point-in-time count, which counts the number of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single Tuesday night. 

It also starts in our schools, where the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made identifying, tracking and assisting unhoused students and their families a challenge. 

Solutions journalism means reporting on responses to problems, like a new public/private partnership that will feature a team of behavioral health professionals and law enforcement officers. 

It also means learning from others, like taking lessons from Harmony House in Mansfield and applying them to a potential year-long shelter in Mount Vernon. 

This series will also feature voices we don’t hear from often enough. Through guest columns and our listening post, we will hear from people who are intimately involved in this issue, in their own words. 

Our goal is to tell the whole story of homelessness in Richland County. We invite you to join us in doing journalism with our community. 

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