Following threat, IMPACT to implement online system for walk-in emergency services – The Columbus Dispatch

IMPACT Community Action announced Monday that it is planning to implement a new online system by mid-November to continue to provide walk-in services to Greater Columbus residents who struggle to pay for things such as rent, mortgages and utilities.
The announcement comes less than a week after the nonprofit agency suspended regular walk-in appointments following a reported threat of gun violence made by one of its clients who became frustrated while waiting in line for services.
Previous coverage: IMPACT Community Action reopens after threat, but appointment-only concerns NAACP
The threat occurred around noon last Tuesday when IMPACT staff informed a group of about 40 people in line for walk-in appointments outside the organization’s offices at 711 Southwood Ave. on the city’s South Side to come back around 1 p.m. after lunch, said IMPACT CEO Robert “Bo” Chilton.
As the group dispersed to a nearby parking lot, a staff member overheard a man in the crowd threaten, “If I am not helped when I come back at 1 p.m. I am not asking questions. I am just going to start shooting,” Chilton said Monday in a written statement.
Chilton said the front desk staff and the security staff were “extremely upset” upon hearing this from the staff member, and “some expressed fear for their lives.” Police were called, he said.
“With the increase in violence seen around the country, we needed to take the utmost caution to protect our customers and staff,” Chilton said in the statement.
The threat prompted IMPACT to not only suspend walk-in services, but to reschedule many of its scheduled appointments until Friday. Both decisions drew criticism and raised concern from NAACP Columbus about the perceived lack of transparency surrounding the move and the additional barriers it would create for those in need of aid.
IMPACT, which receives tens of millions of dollars between both the city of Columbus and Franklin County, is one of 48 agencies in Ohio providing this type of assistance primarily to underrepresented and minority communities living below the federal poverty line in Columbus.
In September, the Columbus City Council distributed another $9.5 million in federal rent and utility assistance to IMPACT, bringing to $20 million the amount granted to the organization. Franklin County has also provided more than $18.2 million in federal rental assistance through IMPACT, including a $10 million contribution made in addition to the city money.
The funds that are able to be provided by IMPACT can often cover a year of rent or be used to become current on past due rent, according to a previous media release from Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s office.
Get assistance:Columbus City Council says it has $9.5 million to pay your rent
But on Monday, Chilton issued a statement to explain IMPACT’s plans going forward and assuage concerns that access to services may be hindered.
Chilton also sought in the statement to clarify what transpired last week.
The agency did not shut down completely on Tuesday following the threat of gun violence, Chilton explained. Offices remained open as clients continued to access other services, such as workforce development offered through IMPACT, Chilton said, and employees continued processing online applications for assistance.
Going forward, IMPACT plans to implement in mid-November an online walk-in system using software developed by Q-nomy. Similar to the process put in place by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the system will allow clients to check in online prior to their arrival, or at a kiosk on site.
With $18 million in rent and utility assistance remaining to distribute through the end of the year to approximately 5,200 people, IMPACT is also hoping that the new system will allow for the agency to expand its capacity to serve up to 200 people per day.
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“We cannot predict nor control how many people show up for walk-in appointments; it has simply become a safety concern for our customers, staff and neighbors,” Chilton said in the statement. “When we roll out the new walk-in system, we will be able to serve customers in a more organized and structured fashion. We continue to encourage all who can, to fill out an application for rent and utility assistance online.”
Jennifer Fening, deputy director of the city’s development department, praised IMPACT in a written statement to The Dispatch for adapting its services to meet the evolving and growing needs of its client base.
“The City of Columbus supports IMPACT in the creation of a new walk-in system that will provide safe, accessible service,” Fening said in the statement.
Though IMPACT allows clients to access emergency assistance services through an online portal and via a phone-based interactive voice response system, the agency has long provided scheduled and walk-in appointments for up to 150 people per day to accommodate those who are unable to access the internet, Chilton said.
When informed of IMPACT’s plan for online walk-in services, Nana Watson, NAACP Columbus president, expressed concern to The Dispatch on Monday that the move would alienate those without internet access.
“We need to talk about other alternatives other than getting online,” Watson said. “They need to do a deeper dive into how they are providing services to the community who need it.”
Among the NAACP’s recommendations, Watson said, is that IMPACT consider hiring security guards or mental health specialists who are trained and equipped to de-escalate tense situations such as the one that arose last week.
Jennifer Wood, a spokeswoman for IMPACT, said the agency is already in communication with a private security company to expand safety services along with the existing IMPACT security team.
IMPACT has remained open since the start of the pandemic, distributing more than $100 million in rent and utility assistance in that time, Chilton said. Though walk-in appointments have fluctuated since March 2020, Chilton said the agency averaged around 40 per day.
That changed in August when IMPACT began handing out $250 Kroger gift cards and also received a federal grant allowing it to increase car repair assistance from the traditional $500 per household to $5,000, Chilton said. Hundreds began lining up outside the agency’s building, arriving earlier and earlier until some began camping out overnight.
When the crowds began causing late-night disturbances and prompting residents to call police, IMPACT suspended walk-in appointments on Sept. 19 for the rest of the month, Chilton said. When the federal grant expired on Sept. 30 and food gift cards subsequently became unavailable, Chilton said IMPACT leaders felt it would be safe to resume walk-in appointments on Oct. 3, a day before the reported threat.
Kenneth Wilson, county administrator for the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said security measure are also at the top of his priority list as the board continues to work with IMPACT to identify solutions.
“We want to work with them in a collaborative fashion and create as many avenues as possible for our residents to be able to effectively receive the financial assistance they need,” Wilson told The Dispatch. “It’s critical that IMPACT is able to get the dollars out in the community because we know the need is there.”
Eric Lagatta is a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch covering social justice issues and nonprofits.
• To schedule an appointment for emergency rent, utility or supportive services, call 614-964-2906• Rent and utility assistance applications can be made and updated online at• General questions may be directed to IMPACT’s call center Monday through Friday by calling 614-252-2799• Customers may also access rent and utility assistance from other agencies listed on


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