Caring Connections Shows Results

On any given day, nearly 100 people are living on the streets of downtown Columbus. While many of these individuals disappear during the day, some do remain on the streets and panhandle. The number of people panhandling, struggling with addiction and/or experiencing severe mental health crises is increasing downtown. Downtown residents and employees often ask what they can do to help these individuals. Capital Crossroads and Discovery Special Improvement Districts developed the Caring Connections Campaign to empower downtown employees and residents who interact with these people.

A positive approach

"The best thing someone can do when they see someone who appears to be in need downtown is to contact our office at 614-228-5718," said Lisa Defendiefer, deputy director of operations & advocacy for Capital Crossroads and Discovery SIDs.

"We can immediately send someone to engage the individual, assess the situation and offer outreach services. We also have free print materials that list the resources available downtown for residents and employees to share with anyone needing assistance."

Meet Our Outreach Team

While all downtown ambassadors are trained to work with people who need help, the SIDs employ two full-time outreach specialists to help people experiencing homelessness downtown.

Bill Cobun has been with the SIDs since 2011. He started out as a safety ambassador, patrolling the streets of downtown and training in self-defense, police mountain biking and as a Certified Tourism Ambassador. He has a varied background that includes working as a musician, a computer programmer, computer repair technician in the Army National Guard and a grocery store manager. Understandably, this allows him to relate to people from all walks of life.

Ryan Jefferson joined the outreach team in 2018 after being a safety ambassador since 2015. He is the only person to be named ambassador of the year three years in a row from 2015-2017. Ryan wanted to do more to help people beyond the street-level assistance he provided as an ambassador. In addition to working directly with clients, Ryan also looked forward to joining with other agencies that provide services.  You can find him coaching Little League basketball and football in his free time. 

How we help 

Our team works to get people connected to housing and services:

  • They find temporary or permanent supportive housing.
  • Bill and Ryan may help clients with criminal records find work.
  • They connect clients with physical or mental disabilities with services.
  • In addition, our team links veterans to eligible services.
  • Bill and Ryan help clients get copies of birth certificates or driver’s licenses. 
  • Similarly, the SIDs help pay application fees, transportation, access to the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, utility assistance and small household items.
  • Finally, our staff work with a new Mobile Crisis Response Unit along with the Columbus Police Department and Netcare. This unit is sent to help people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
Our results 

Last year, Bill and Ryan provided over 3,680 hours of homeless outreach.

  • They worked with over 1,000 clients at the Open Shelter and Main Library.
  • Our team also helped 84 clients find permanent housing, 43 clients find emergency shelter, and 55 clients secure identification documents.
  • Finally, our Caring Connections program provided over 500 COTA bus passes to help clients get to appointments, job interviews and housing.
History of the program 

Capital Crossroads SID members first began funding outreach services in 2003. At first, they shared costs with The Columbus Foundation. After two years, they began to fully fund the program. Similarly, Discovery SID understood the value of outreach. They included it in the SID's initial program for service in 2006.  Together, the two SIDs fund two full-time outreach specialists who serve clients downtown at an annual cost of over $150,000.


As you can see, we have a variety of resources available for our Caring Connections Campaign including posters, flyers, postcards and cards that list social service resources available downtown every day. Please contact us at (614) 228-5718 if you would like a supply delivered to you.