Star is Shining
No one dreams about experiencing homelessness when they grow up. Star, a newer Cleveland resident, certainly never wanted that for herself.
Like many young girls, she simply wanted to be safe in her own house with a family that loved her. Sadly, those that were supposed to protect her took advantage of her instead.
“I’ve been molested as a kid by close family members, and I always had a sense of shame, and guilt, and pain. It was not a home,” she remembers.
Star spent time in and out of the foster care system, and at 14, she had her first child. Not wanting to subject her daughter to the same abuse, she left and ran straight into the arms of another toxic support system. In Star’s new environment, the violence continued.
“He would drink every single day, and I would drink right along with him,” she recalls. “We would argue a lot, and I would have to face my daughter like that. I hated myself.”
Fast-forward about two decades later; this now mother of one adult daughter and three young children is finally creating the safe home for her kids that she never had. Thanks to the New Horizons Program, a ministry of longstanding local nonprofit The City Mission, she will be a full homeowner in less than two years.
Making Peace with Her Story
Star’s journey from traumatized teenager to thriving mom and career woman has been long and demanding. Three years ago she decided to finally leave the harmful cycle that entrapped her.
“When I’d seen how my life started to crumble, I had to let everything go,” she shares.
She left the city she grew up in to move in with her estranged father in Cleveland, but his one room flat in a retirement apartment quickly proved to be overwhelmingly small for two adults and three small children.
So she called Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, The City Mission’s program for women and moms with children. At that time – as it has been since 2012 and continues to be to this day – Laura’s Home was full with a waiting list. The staff asked her to call back tomorrow to get her name on the list, so she did – day after day.
She’ll never forget the moment when she received a call that a private room was open for her family.
“That very night I had it all set in my mind that me and my kids are going to sleep in the car. This was in March so it was cold outside,” Star reflects. “So, when I got that phone call it was like everything stopped. When I walked through those doors, I felt so at peace. I didn’t have to worry about arguing with people. I had my own space. My kids had their own beds.”
Something as simple as her children having their own beds was the foundation of Star’s newfound hope that things could change for her family. Laura’s Home was able to meet practical needs like childcare and hygiene products for Star’s family, allowing her to unravel the emotional turmoil she had experienced her whole life.
“I felt like I was the only person who was going through something… but when I was hearing everyone’s story, I was thinking why am I so ashamed of my own story. If their story is helping me, I can help someone else with my story too,” she proclaims.
An Overwhelming Obstacle
Today, her story truly is changing the lives of others. With the space to heal at Laura’s Home, Star was able to overcome her alcohol dependency and see a remarkable change in her children’s spiritual, physical, and emotional development.
When she graduated the intense program, Star obtained a quality, full-time job helping people in her former situation find housing. But the biggest step in her journey to stability is only beginning – home ownership through the New Horizons program.
“We have 50, 60, up to 100 women and children every day that call The City Mission looking for a safe place to stay,” shares Linda Uveges, COO of The City Mission. “That’s just not okay with us, so we continue to look for ways that we can help women and children move out of homelessness and into their own home.”
She goes on to explain that dozens of women and their families complete the program at Laura’s Home every year, and that at this point they are eager to create a healthy, stable life for their children. Unfortunately, they are often faced with the overwhelming obstacle of affordable housing.
In Ohio, a single mother working a minimum wage job – the work most Laura’s Home graduates are eligible for – must work 100 hours each week to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment. This leaves her with just 68 hours to commute, sleep, and care for her children and herself. Seeing this great need, The City Mission created the New Horizons program so that moms can finally break the cycle of poverty through home ownership.
Star’s home on Cleveland’s west side is the sixth New Horizons house completed.
“I never thought a shelter would do something like this for a family, but this is a holistic environment, and they are really trying to make life better,” Star says.
Ashley Field, Community Development Coordinator for New Horizons and Star’s caseworker, lists off the many reasons why Star deserves this honor. “She was able to obtain sustainable employment for her and her children. She displayed transformation spiritually, mentally, and emotionally during her time at Laura’s Home.” Field continues by explaining that not every client that graduates the Laura’s Home program is a candidate for the New Horizons program because of its intensity. However, Star clearly had all the characteristics to be successful. “She’s displayed a great sense of responsibility and ability to manage her own home,” shares Field.
Here’s how the New Horizons program works:
- A Laura’s Home mom with children is selected to begin the path to home ownership
- A blighted home is purchased by New Horizons from the Cuyahoga Land Bank
- Renovation costs and volunteers are provided by a local group or individual for a total remodel
- The mother prepares for home ownership with specialized casework and financial planning classes
- The family moves into the home at completion of renovations and home ownership training
- New Horizons transfers the home deed, mortgage-free, to the mother after 24 months of proven management of full-time employment, responsible budgeting and home maintenance
- The cycle of poverty is broken; a woman who was once homeless is now a homeowner
Home for Christmas in Her Forever Home
In Star’s case, a local doctor funded the project, and the First District Police Department, Donley’s and several contractors and volunteers conducted the home renovations. Restoration on the house began in January 2019. Usually renovations take six to twelve months, but in November it looked like Star would not be able to move into her home until Spring 2020.
However, through some unexpected community connections and efforts, Star and her children celebrated the completion of their beautiful new home on December 20, 2019 – just in time to celebrate Christmas in a place that’s all their own.
The entire process over the past three years has been transformational for Star.
“I went from a person with low self-esteem, a person who was very shameful with a lot of guilt,” she says. “And here I stand about to become a homeowner.”
Her story proves that life change is possible for anyone who is ready to drop the weights of their past and embrace the support of a healthy community. With a new year and a new decade in full swing, The City Mission hopes to see the New Horizons program grow, so that dozens more women and their children can be the beginning of a better future for generations to come.
If you want to be a part of breaking the cycle of poverty for deserving Cleveland families, visit our New Horizons page and get in touch with Ashley Field.