One Mother’s Struggle
Bridget needed help.
As a mother of five and the only provider for her family, she lost her job after needing to take time off due to pregnancy complications. Her child’s father left her. She was evicted from her apartment after missing one month’s rent, and she then bounced from house to house, eventually running out of relationships and personal strength.
She was in a crisis and in need of a fresh start. She was also emblematic of the emerging face of homelessness in Cleveland.
“The faces, causes, and conditions of homelessness are constantly changing,” said the Rev. Richard Trickel, the chief executive of The City Mission. “We’ve watched the majority of the homeless population evolve from primarily single men through the 20th century to a devastating crisis of mothers with children today.”
The City Mission is one of Cleveland’s oldest institutions. Founded in 1910, they have been serving the city’s hurting and homeless for decades. While many might remember the Mission fondly as a summer camp for children or a soup kitchen for people down on their luck, today it operates as a full-service, restorative crisis center for men, women, and children. Today in Cleveland, these services are needed like never before.
Whether you’re looking forward to celebrating the Easter season or simply longing for consistent rays of sunshine, all of us are ready for a fresh start with the coming of spring. Soon, gardens will be planted, the Metroparks will bustle, and we’ll see our next-door neighbors once again.
Some of our neighbors are in need of an even greater fresh start than what we typically consider. While most of us will be raking mulch and preparing for the end of the school year, others are beginning to build a brand new life at The City Mission.
Trickel explains that for the majority of people they serve today (moms like Bridget), the causes of crisis shift from a simple effect of personal choices to a more complex cycle of generational poverty.
The Family Homelessness Crisis
Mothers with children are the largest, most complicated and most underserved group experiencing homelessness in our city. The truth is, short-term and long-term emergency shelter options for families are dwindling in the city of Cleveland. Those options that do exist are overcrowded, understaffed and offer limited lengths of stay. Even if a mother can obtain a room in a family shelter, she is likely to feel unsafe and/or run out of time to find both work and housing to adequately support her family.
The family homelessness crisis has been made clear with recent statistics from Project ACT, an organization out of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) that provides support services to homeless children and youth. According to Project ACT, students defined as homeless – “residing in temporary emergency shelters, traditional housing and doubled-up students staying with other families due to loss of housing, economic hardship or similar situations” – numbered nearly 3,000 in the 2018/2019 school year alone.
Finding Rest at Laura’s Home
Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, The City Mission’s program for women and children, makes the effort to welcome as many of those families as possible. From a trained security team at the front desk to the assignment of a private room, to the provision of three hot meals a day, families who come to Laura’s Home can begin to rest.
While the Laura’s Home campus has the capacity to host approximately 60 women and 90 children, the shelter has been full with a waiting list for the past seven years.
Bridget remembers what it was like to be on that list.
“I had basically given up. I was so hurt because my boyfriend had put his hands on me, cheated on me, then disappeared,” she said. “I had been calling for months, I felt like I’d failed my kids, and I was ready to give up on life.”
Thankfully, the very day Bridget was contemplating how to give up, she received a call from Laura’s Home saying there was a spot her entire family.
“I was so excited. The kids were happy. And when we got into our room, I felt a sense of peace,” she remembers. “Peace is all I had been searching for after trying so hard for so long.”
Part of the reason the waiting list is so long to obtain a spot at Laura’s Home is due to the fact that the average stay is nearly a year. The City Mission gives families time and resources to determine plans for housing and employment, as well as opportunities to work on the mental and emotional struggles that brought them to Laura’s Home in the first place.
At The City Mission, children receive specialized, individualized help too. The childcare team not only provides a safe, caring environment where kids can thrive – they also assist in diagnosing children with developmental delays and pointing families to the best long-term resources.
In 2018, Laura’s Home served 106 families with a total of 275 children. Of those 275 children, 140 received long-term developmental intervention or mental health/trauma counseling. And sadly, 73 children came directly from an environment of domestic violence.
Challenged by ADHD, autism, developmental delays, or even early forms of mental illness like depression and anxiety, these children face an uphill battle in their young lives. Pathways, The City Mission’s youth program, works closely with mothers to help families win not only the developmental battle but also the battle against poverty and homelessness.
Bridget is finding that this type of change is possible with the right support system.
“My son is smart – he understands a lot more than the average seven-year-old, so I have to be strong for him. Now I know I can take on anything, and Laura’s Home put that faith, put that hope, put that love into me,” she smiles.
While recovering from trauma, dealing with past mistakes, and moving forward with a tangible plan looks different for every family, Trickel says the ultimate goal is the same.
“We want each family to find a home that is sustainable, safe, and loving for all in a way that breaks generational cycles of poverty,” he said.
If you want to be a part of this type of transformation at Laura’s Home, The City Mission invites you to get involved:
1. Attend the Stand In on Public Square to represent all 3,000 homeless students in CMSD. This free, family-friendly event is open to the public and will bring massive awareness to what you now know. Register today.
2. Use your time and talents to benefit women and children at Laura’s Home. Sign up to learn about becoming a volunteer.
3. If you’re a young family, join the fun of Moms With The Mission – a group that meets monthly to create and play games with families staying at Laura’s Home.
The statistics surrounding single-mother family homelessness don’t have to remain in the thousands. When we work together as Greater Cleveland, we have the opportunity to provide more than a new beginning – we can empower generational change. Why not make supporting hurting families in your neighborhood part of your own fresh start this spring?