Columbus is welcoming, but has gender pay and rising homeless issues, panelists say
Columbus is a diverse and accepting community, but a high rate of evictions is creating a growing homelessness problem.
That was the picture presented by panelists at Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s fourth State of Columbus Neighborhood Conversations on Thursday evening at The Kings Arts Complex on the Near East Side.
About 150 people attended the latest installment of his community meetings, which have replaced the traditional annual state of the city address. The topics Thursday were diversity and inclusion, and the Columbus Women’s Commission.
The commission is an 18-member body that Ginther created shortly after taking office in 2016. It is tasked with reducing gender-based inequities and looking at ways to improve the economic position of women in the community.
During the past year, the increasing rate of evictions has overwhelmed family shelters, said Christie Angel, president and chief executive officer of the YWCA Columbus. She said that around 70 percent of those evicted are young black women, and many have at least two children.
There were around 18,000 evictions filed in Franklin County courts last year, Angel said.
Angel said that there are some inequities with the eviction process because landlords are not required to attend while tenants must be at hearings. She said that tenants also usually don’t have legal representation.
The effects of an eviction can haunt a family for years and limit future options, Angel said.
The women’s commission has started to tackle the issue, Ginther said. Franklin County’s Department of Job and Family Services also has recognized the problem and assigned a staff member to it while the Legal Aid Society of Ohio has stepped up in an effort to help tenants with eviction issues.
Since the women’s commission was created, 91 companies have signed an agreement to strive for pay equity for men and women, said Shannon Ginther, the mayor’s wife and chair of the commission. In Columbus, women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, the commission says, while the national average is 80 cents on the dollar for women.
Despite some problems, Columbus has a reputation as a welcoming city, panelists said.
“Immigrants feel welcome here,” said Ariana Ulloa-Olavarrieta, an immigrant who is an executive coach for LIGHTS (Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability) Ohio University. The organization helps small business startups.
Ulloa-Olavarrieta said that it is important to remember that even undocumented immigrants pay taxes and contribute to the community. Columbus has followed through on its promise to award city contracts to minority-owned businesses and is accommodating, she said.
Local entrepreneur Thomas Grote grew up in central Ohio and remembers that when the first gay pride parade occurred about 38 years ago, there were 50 participants and some wore bags over their heads.
Grote said that Columbus has achieved a 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign as a welcoming city for the LGBTQ community. He said that it’s important that the state of Ohio follow Columbus’ lead in adopting non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community to remain competitive economically.
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