New Hope for Homeless Families
On Saturday, November 11th, 2017, 82 people walked into our downtown gym with one goal in mind – finding a permanent solution for hundreds of women and children that have spent the past year in emergency overflow shelters in Cleveland.
Rich Trickel, our CEO, opened the meeting by explaining that the challenges these families face are not small, and that it will take significant effort and creativity to determine lasting solutions. The City Mission opened the gym at our downtown campus in September 2016 to homeless families as a temporary solution for overnight accommodations; there were truly no other options being offered at that time. In the last 13 months, over 320 families have sought emergency overflow assistance there.
Furthermore, the numbers are not subsiding, but growing quickly. 41% of the homeless population is now families; with the majority of these families being led by a single mother. These women and children become homeless for a variety of reasons, including mental health, domestic violence, addiction and a lack of affordable housing.
View the Overflow Discussion PowerPoint
Rich explained that what these mothers and children need is stability, but what they are receiving is a one size fits all model that is not effective for families. The goal has been to place families in shelter into the government’s Rapid Rehousing (RRH) program, but landlords willing to take RRH vouchers are becoming harder to find. On top of this difficulty, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority waitlist is 3-5 years, an amount of time that will do serious damage to women and children experiencing homelessness. Even if families are able to achieve government assisted housing, they will most likely not have access to ongoing case management. Without consistency in relationships or recovery from the circumstances that led them to crisis, a woman and her kids will most likely end up homeless again.
As the meeting continued, Rich was thankfully able to report that because of the support of the media and the community, the County is beginning to listen and act. The women in emergency overflow will now have access to a caseworker that can direct them to critical resources. The County has also budgeted money for a family overflow site – Haven Home in Slavic Village.
Cindy Rios from from Elizabeth Baptist Church introduced herself as the manager of Haven Home, and explained to the crowd what Haven’s services could look like. Haven Home can fit 36 people, families can have their own rooms, and there will be access to bathrooms and showers. The City Mission and Haven Home will be working together to transfer the donations the community has so generously given to the new space. The group erupted with cheers at this news, but many still had questions.
As our followers know, room for 36 people is not enough to handle the numbers we’ve been seeing in overflow at The City Mission. At times, the number of women and children reaches above 60. Cindy shared that the Elizabeth Baptist Church next to Haven Home has a gym with classrooms that can be used for an overflow space. Large families could stay in these rooms, and then head over to Haven Home for meals.
Another asked about the bigger issue – more emergency overflow space is still not a permanent solution. Where will these families find lasting help and change? Rich Trickel jumped in to explain our New Horizons Housing Collaborative, a program that truly breaks the cycle of poverty by helping homeless mothers become employed homeowners. This program is highly effective, but takes long amounts of time to cultivate partners and complete projects. Rich expressed his hopes that more would join in this effort, and that the Mission is ready to empower individuals and organizations to be a part of this radically transformational process.
Rich went on to give a larger overview of the “bigger issue” – the lack of shelter beds around Cleveland; the thousands of homeless children in our school systems; the desperate duty we have to them and to our community at large to stop the cycle of generational poverty. He called for more engagement and teamwork from the community, and opened up the floor for more questions.
Someone in the crowd asked if the programming at Haven Home would be holistic as it is at Laura’s Home. Cindy shared that the first priority is stabilizing the women and children in emergency overflow right now, but that they have a transition plan in place to eventually start providing a more holistic program in the future.
One of the final questions gave Rich the opportunity to clarify another statement some in the community have misunderstood. The person asked what could be done on the weekends for these families in overflow, in the meantime since they are “put out” by The City Mission, especially as it is becoming colder. Rich was ready to say that the Mission is not “putting out” these families, but providing a service that would not have existed without our help. Though it is the County’s responsibility to offer emergency overflow, they were not prepared to do so, and continued to not prepare for months. Our top priority has always been the safety of all people and families, so when no one was doing anything to offer a safe place to sleep, we provided what we could for as long as we could during the day – including breakfast, dinner, and volunteer assistance. It is our joy and duty to share our shelter and resources with these families, but we believe they deserve a space that is designed and equipped for long term care.
Many more questions were asked. Where is the Church? How are they involved? How can we become more involved, while at the same time placing responsibility where it should be placed? The sense of the room was just wanting more to be done.
The City Mission has been blessed beyond measure with the response to our call for material gift donations, but what we need is for churches to open doors. The media has been incredible in shedding light on the issues, but we cannot stop talking about this crisis. Our volunteers have offered critical support, but we need to find ways to build true relationships with these women and children.
Just the beginning
The needs are overwhelming, but at the end of the meeting Rich introduced what we can do right now:
- Join the housing crisis task force in our Facebook group
- Implement creative opportunities for homeownership or housing assistance with local faith community members
- Join a support team by emailing email@example.com with your interest
- Advisory/Steering – paint the big picture for our emergency overflow goals
- Overflow – volunteer time, meals, material gifts, etc. to those staying in emergency overflow
- Agency – act as a liaison and collaborator between Cleveland crisis agencies
- Student – mentor and engage children and students of all ages
- Ongoing – build lasting relationships with families who transition to housing
- Advocacy – continue encouraging the media and government to pay attention to this crisis
- Give financially to organizations like The City Mission
- Continue to contact your government officials about doing more to create a lasting solution
As people gathered into groups to discuss these ideas, chatter filled the room. We are grateful for every voice in attendance, and the diversity of those who showed up. Everyone has something to offer, and we will do our best to empower their gifts.
At The City Mission, the security and recovery of the women and children is our top priority, and we will not stop advocating and providing for them until a long-term solution is in place. We agree that Northeast Ohio has the capacity and compassion to provide a better solution for these homeless families; it’s what we’ve been saying for months. What is needed is a permanent facility to accommodate the homeless families in overflow status – a clean and safe facility that respects their humanity and dignity.
If you want to become involved in this movement, check out the links associated with the options above and always feel welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
And stay tuned. This is only the beginning.
P.S. We have been overwhelmingly blessed and are incredibly grateful for the support of the community in this time! Many of you have donated or are in the process of donating overnight kits for overflow. So much has developed over the weekend, and we’re doing our best to communicate how to these resources will be used in the future. At this point in time, we are determining who the contact at Haven Home will be to receive future gifts.
The resources we’ve collected (hygiene, clothing, food kits etc.) will be transferred to Haven Home where they will continue to benefit the moms and kids in overflow. Rest assured that it will be used to help the families who need it most, but if there is another organization you find that you’d like to donate to instead, we completely understand.
And as you think of the families in overflow, please still remember the 165 women and children at Laura’s Home and 110 men at Crossroads. These clients are currently in their journey to recovery and stability at The City Mission, and we covet your continued financial and material gift support. Thank you for your kindness to our neighbors in need. Together, we are making Cleveland a bright light in a hurting world.