Originally published on Cleveland.com May 1-June 29, 2019
“Before we came here, it was not so good. We kept house-hopping and then from hotel to hotel to hotel. Then I moved to a church, then I came here,” explains Jamie*.
Like most fifth-grade boys, Jamie has an energetic personality with a clear disposition for mischief. When he talks about his family’s path to The City Mission’s Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, he doesn’t hang his head or talk quietly. In fact, he practically shouts it to the room full of other kids who have come to the program with their moms to find refuge from any number of crises. For him, moving from couch to hotel to shelter is normal life.
Jamie is only one of the nearly 3,000 students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) who experienced homelessness during the 2018-2019 school year. He’s also one of nearly 90 children receiving long-term, wraparound care at The City Mission’s ministry for single women and moms with children.
With this number growing, Cleveland is in the midst of a single-mother family homelessness crisis.
“Most of these families are completely invisible to greater Cleveland,” says Rich Trickel, CEO of The City Mission. “Because these families try to avoid the stigma of homelessness by staying out of sight, the city does not see their crisis.”
Statistics from Project ACT, a support system for homeless students in CMSD, support Trickel’s statements. Project Act assisted 2,972 students in the 2017-2018 school year. Only 475 of those students lived in homeless shelters, while nearly 2,200 lived doubled up — crashing on couches, in basements, or contained to a single room — with family and friends.
“That type of unstable lifestyle has a devastating impact on children,” Trickel explains. “Homeless children experience violence, trouble in school, and mental and physical delays at much higher rates than children who have a stable place to call home.”
Yvette Applewhite, a mom currently participating in the long-term Laura’s Home program, knows this firsthand. Her elementary age daughter is currently attending her sixth school.
“She’s adjusted pretty well to each school, but I’m trying to not move her anymore, if possible. We are going to achieve this and get over this hurdle,” shares Applewhite.
Applewhite is thankful to have obtained a spot at Laura’s Home because she knows how long the waitlist for a room can be. In the past six months alone, Laura’s Home has been unable to shelter 487 unique women with over 1,000 unique children because their private rooms are at capacity. These heartbreaking numbers do not even include the 277 single women that also called with the hopes of obtaining a room.
Trickel and his team at The City Mission have spent years watching these numbers come through the phone lines day after day. While Laura’s Home offers all of the services and rooms possible in their current space, it has become clear that the wide array of resources needed to lift entire families out of poverty (especially those led by a single mother) do not exist in a long-term capacity elsewhere in the city of Cleveland.
And, almost as heartbreaking to the Mission, only a small percentage of people in Greater Cleveland are aware that this crisis exists.
That’s why the Mission developed the Stand In.
The City Mission is hosting an event at Cleveland Public Square on Saturday, June 29th with the goal of gathering 3,000 people to represent each and every one of the students who experienced homelessness in the 2018-2019 school year.
“We’re asking you to do two things: call attention to this tragedy in our city and engage in being a part of the solution. We’re turning awareness into action,” explains Trickel.
Beginning at 4:00 p.m., the free event includes music, words from city, civil and faith leaders, and activities for all ages. At 6:00 p.m., the 3,000 people in attendance will rise together for a Stand In moment to represent each homeless child in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and inspire one another, and the larger community, to take action.
The hope is that through the support and movement of an entire community, the number of homeless students will greatly decrease – a change The City Mission believes can only happen when the cycle of poverty is broken.
At Laura’s Home, Jamie and his family are well on their way to removing themselves from the statistics. They’re learning the housing, employment and emotional skills that will empower them to break the cycle once they graduate from the program. Jaime’s already thinking about what that day will look like.
“I want a pet, and my own room, and my own house. I want to have a pool in our backyard. And a jacuzzi!” he exclaims.
Despite experiencing homelessness today, Jamie’s hopes for the future are just like anyone else’s. When we Stand In for him, it is possible for those dreams to become a reality.
If you want to see a recap of the Stand In or learn how you can be a part of this continued movement, visit www.thecitymission.org/stand-in.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the privacy of a minor