When they first arrived on the morning of July 2, the staff at the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati (IHN) knew something was wrong. No water was coming from any of the taps and a gushing sound could be heard in the basement.
"There was a waterfall happening in the basement because someone had tried to steal the copper pipes,” says Executive Director Georgine Getty.
An inch of water pooling in the basement and a steady spray caused more than $4,000 of damage on what Getty describes as one of her most difficult days at the Network. The actual cost of the damage would have been much more if not for the help of volunteers who agreed to donate their labor.
Getty (pictured) and others worked past 2 a.m. with a contractor, who was working free of charge, and the Greater Cincinnati Water Works to get the situation under control and secure the building. The would-be thieves smashed a basement window to enter one of the buildings that IHN owns on the grounds of the old St. Michael’s Church in Lower Price Hill. IHN co-owns the compound — which includes a rectory, convent, church and an annex — with the Lower Price Hill Community School.
The Network serves homeless families and has been based in Lower Price Hill for more than 15 years, hosting eight families at any given time. About 65 percent of their clients are children, and half are younger than 5.
At night, the families sleep at a church or synagogue belonging to one of the 29 congregations that are part of IHN’s network.
Typically, 87 percent move on to permanent or transitional housing, Getty says. The work is fulfilling, she adds, but also frustrating. Besides dealing with the issues that led to a family’s homelessness, IHN often finds itself fighting a deteriorating, 19th-century building as well as the neighborhood’s criminal element.
"And the people who did this stayed in the parking lot the whole time,” Getty says.
As the cleanup work was being done that night, a pickup truck with several men waited nearby, parked behind the Water Works truck. Getty says she believes they were vulturing, waiting for a second chance at the copper when everyone left.
"We serve so many people because of the economy, and we’re under siege because of that same economy,” she adds.
The break-in was the last straw. IHN has plans in the works to move to a new space in another neighborhood.
The latest incident followed on the heels of several building issues. It would cost more than $500,000 to renovate the Network's current space. There’s also been a steady deluge of garbage, ranging from used condoms to junk furniture, that's discarded around the compound and accusations from some people in the community that IHN has brought these problems on itself, that the attempted copper theft wouldn’t have happened if IHN wasn’t serving the homeless and bringing them into the area.
But District 3 Police Officer Sal Tufano says that copper thefts are and continue to be an issue in the neighborhood and throughout the nation.
"I’ve never had a belief that social service agencies brought an element that was detrimental,” he says.
Lower Price Hill Community Council President Jack Degano says he's disappointed to see IHN leave and is concerned about what will happen to the space when the organization is gone.
"What do we want for that building? We don’t know,” Degano says. “We hope the (Lower Price Hill Community School) can utilize all of it. … Our hope is that it is not just torn down. Our hope is that it is not just another social service agency. We are not pleased that the Network is leaving.”
Once a new space is secured, IHN will offer the Community School the first chance at purchasing IHN’s 50 percent interest in St. Michael’s, Getty says. The asking price would be the same as what IHN originally paid: 50 cents.