Many of us have resolved to do more (or less) in 2019 — to follow a fitness plan, volunteer, spend more time with our children, or any other number of goals we can imagine to create a better life for our families and ourselves.
But for those in our city experiencing homelessness, they’re simply hoping to survive.
The City Mission is just one organization in Cleveland empowering men, women, and children who have experienced homelessness and need a fresh start. With their programs of Crossroads Men’s Crisis Center offering long-term, restorative services to 110+ men, and Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center doing the same for 155+ women and children, they understand that each person needs to create unique goals and game plans to have a healthy future.
Here are just a few ways the nonprofit is bringing our neighbors in need from unhealthy habits to a healed lifestyle.
Experiencing homelessness is devastating to the physical body, especially for individuals above the age of 50. Homelessness exacerbates already poor health, as well as susceptibility to devastating health issues such as pneumonia, COPD, chronic pain, cardiovascular issues, and more.
“We are dealing with the same issues with a 50-year-old that a housed person would have in their 70s, in terms of physical and mental health,” says Anne Miskey, a nationally recognized expert on homelessness.
Unfortunately, many people experiencing homelessness may simply not know where to go for healthcare, or they may not trust institutions and therefore never see a doctor for their ailment. Others might turn to organizations such as nursing homes or the emergency room, straining a system that will only end up turning them back to the street after their temporary needs are met.
At The City Mission, caseworkers ensure that clients get connected to the resources that make the most sense for each unique client. Caseworkers regularly write referrals to organizations like The Centers for Families and Children, Care Alliance, and Recovery Resources, to connect clients to critical services. Additionally, Crossroads hosts representatives from Care Alliance every Tuesday to see clients directly on-site. For clients who are unable to travel, have trouble navigating the healthcare system, or lack trust in those they do not know, these visits can completely change their quality of life.
Michael, a Crossroads graduate, knows how transformational the connection to healthcare can be. Before he came to The City Mission, he had gone seven months without dentures. “When I came here, I didn’t have any teeth,” he remembers, “but once I started getting established, I started taking care of my medical needs and my dental needs. It definitely made me feel a lot better about myself, and I know I look better.”
While in the Crossroads program, Michael was also able to have intensive foot surgery. Without The City Mission, Michael would have had no support system to care for him in his immobility; instead, he had meals provided, a safe space in which to rest and recover, and the opportunity to continue preparing for the future through the Crossroads classes.
Part of restoring a healthy body is having access to a healthy diet. The City Mission is working hard to adapt its menus to smart meals that follow the latest research in nutrition and individual needs.
Every daily menu contains a calorie count and nutrition report so that clients can determine what exactly needs to go on their plate. At both Laura’s Home and Crossroads, the kitchen staff incorporates fruits, vegetables, protein and grains into every meal, a challenge all Cleveland residents experience and from which they could benefit.
The City Mission also works with clients to meet their individual food plans, especially when certain foods can be dangerous to a person’s health.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of gluten intolerance in clients, so we incorporate gluten free items into our daily menu,” explains Carla Maneage, Food Service Supervisor at Laura’s Home.
When a food allergy is made known or discovered, the client, caseworker, and the food service department work together to ensure there will be no food allergy incidents.
Beyond simply serving food, Maneage and her team also empower clients with education on how to make healthy food choices. During the Lenten season, they offer the Daniel Plan diet, which consists of plant-based proteins and clean eating.
“The clients are educated on what the diet is about, what it consists of, and are given a ‘good food list,’ of what’s allowed on the plan,” Maneage said. “The foods that are incorporated into the meals are not much different than what we already serve, but more so educates the individual on making better choices that consist of eating a healthier diet.”
Over the past few years, much attention has been brought to the critical need for individuals to focus on not just physical health, but also their mental health. The City Mission has acknowledged this reality for decades, and they continue to adapt their methods to what is most helpful to clients in the short and long-term.
“We see a variety of mental and physical health issues, from ADHD, depression, anxiety, and even some more serious mental disorders like schizophrenia,” shares Mark Ballenger, Crossroads Program Manager.
Crossroads and Laura’s Home offer classes such as Anger Management, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and parenting classes in order to help clients cope with past trauma and learn how to set healthy boundaries for themselves and others.
Amanda, a former Laura’s Home client and aspiring nurse, understands how DBT impacts her relationship with both her son and her work. Before taking the class, she struggled to have empathy for her son when he was hurt physically or emotionally.
She laughs now saying, “How did I ever think I was going to be a nurse when I wouldn’t validate my son’s feelings? What about when I’m in a hospital setting and I’m supposed to be a comforter, and I’m helping the doctor — but how can I help the patient? And my son, if he falls off his bike, he just wants comfort and love, and I wasn’t giving that. And I realize how can I do that all, even in a career. I learned all this through DBT.”
Improving the health of children who have experienced trauma and homelessness is also a high priority for The City Mission, which is why Laura’s Home ensures that children from infants to high schoolers have the tools they need to develop healthy eating and fitness habits.
For little ones, Childcare holds exercise time for about 10 minutes each day. Children are taught simple exercises through fun and play — jumping jacks and frog jumps, as well as a dance and song time.
“It definitely isn’t pretty or always accurate but we try,” shares Christina Hahn, Family Ministry Coordinator. “It’s a good way to get energy out. We play games like Red Light/Green Light or Simon Says for a running portion, and we don’t always make it feel like organized exercise.”
Additionally, teens will soon be able to access fitness equipment appropriate for their level of development and more mature fitness goals. The City Mission recently met its #GivingTuesday fundraising goal in November 2018, which is allowing them to build a teen-only room with workout equipment such as exercise bikes, strength training equipment, and a punching bag.
This year, Laura’s Home also has the ability to offer a more intentional fitness therapy opportunity through a unique program. Sara Menser, a graduate student studying Dance Movement and currently interning with The City Mission, is spending a year at Laura’s Home to help children cope with their world through regulation of body and mind.
“We focus on problems they may be having at school, with friends, family, etc., and find creative solutions to those problems through movement,” Mesner said. “That movement may be as simple as turning some music on and having time to free dance and express themselves, or as complex as learning new breathing techniques and calming methods for when they feel they need it most.
“My main goal is to create a healthy mind-body connection that can help guide them to make healthy choices cognitively, physically and emotionally in the future.”
As you consider your goals for 2019, they may not look much different than the ones of The City Mission’s clients. Developing a healthy body, mind, and habits is something we each will strive for this year. And the opportunities to get healthy that the Mission offers to men, women, and children aren’t just for their guests — they’re for the community too. If you resolved to give back, here are three ways you can be a part of healthy stories in your city.
1. Volunteer to open up fitness opportunities for men. Currently, there are no fitness programs for men at Crossroads. The staff is seeking volunteers that might be able to open their full-size gym on a regular basis so that clients can play basketball or participate in other fitness activities right on campus.
2. Prepare a meal for guests of The City Mission. Share your passion for healthy eating with those who are unable to afford or prepare their own nutritious foods. Your family, office, or group can choose a night to make dinner at The City Mission and eat with the neighbors you’re serving.
3. Mentor a teen in the Pathways program. Many teens at Laura’s Home have lacked consistent, healthy relationships with adults in their lifetime. This year, the Pathways staff is launching a mentorship program for teens at Laura’s Home. The hope is that mentors will spend regular time tutoring teens, sharing skills, and simply getting to know them.
When we resolve to empower others with our time and gifts we don’t just become better versions of ourselves, we create a healthier, greater Cleveland. If you’re interested in providing help in any of the categories above or in your own creative way, email firstname.lastname@example.org.