By JULIE MINDA
About 550 young adults sought homeless services including supportive housing slots and short-term rent subsidies in 2020 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Many of them did not receive the housing or services they pursued.
There is a significant gap between the number of young adults who are unhoused in Cleveland and the surrounding county and the resources available to enable them to secure short- or long-term housing, according to Housing First Cleveland. The collaborative, which includes the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, has 782 units of permanent supportive housing in 13 buildings for people experiencing chronic homelessness.
To qualify for permanent supportive housing, its clients have a disabling condition and/or have been homeless for 365 consecutive days or a total of 365 days over at least four episodes in three years. Young adults facing homelessness often don't meet those criteria, even though supportive housing is often the best alternative for them, says Angela D'Orazio, senior program officer for the homelessness focus area for Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.
Kai Cotton, right, the lead youth navigator at Cleveland's A Place 4 Me, heads a board of formerly homeless young people that is giving input on the design of dwellings and programs at a supportive housing complex expected to open in the summer of 2023. A Place 4 Me, a nonprofit that aids homeless youth, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland are among the project's partners. With Cotton is Shajuana Gaston, foster care youth navigator at A Place 4 Me.
To address this conundrum, Housing First Cleveland plans to create a diverse continuum of housing options for young people including supportive housing and to offer more short-term rental assistance. Construction is expected to begin in late spring and finish in the summer of 2023 on a new 50-unit supportive housing complex specifically for homeless adults age 18 to 24. Younger teens may be accepted for tenancy under certain circumstances, says D'Orazio.
She adds the foundation expects that tenants will get the assistance they require to rebuild or start their adult lives. "We see housing as a stepping-stone," she says.
Near jobs, retail
D'Orazio says Housing First Cleveland selected a building site in the city's St. Clair Superior neighborhood with input from the REACH Youth Action Board, an advisory committee of six young people who have been homeless. That board has engaged in the planning process for the new housing development. The group said they wanted access to high-frequency transit, job and educational opportunities and childcare; and they also prioritized safety and diversity.
D'Orazio says the chosen site checks all those boxes.
A rendering of the 50-unit transitional age housing complex specifically for homeless adults age 18 to 24. Construction is expected to begin in the spring.
Sisters of Charity Foundation convened the Housing First Cleveland partners now involved in the transitional age youth development and helped secure about $12 million in private, government and donor funding commitments. Total development costs are projected at just over $12 million.
The Housing First Cleveland collaborators heading the project are CHN Housing Partners, which is the lead developer and co-owner of the property; EDEN Inc., the co-developer, co-owner and property manager; and FrontLine Service, which will coordinate supportive services at the facility. The Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority will provide rent subsidies. (See sidebar for more on some of these partners.)
Kai Cotton, 25, is the lead youth navigator at A Place 4 Me, a Cleveland nonprofit that provides services to homeless youth. A Place 4 Me is a partner in the youth housing project. Cotton, who had aged out of the foster system at 18, first connected to A Place 4 Me through their Opportunity Passport program, which teaches financial literacy and matches savings for young people who have been in foster care at least once after the age of 14. She went back to the agency when she faced housing issues. "They helped me with emergency assistance funds once I found a place to move into," she said.
She tops the REACH Youth Action Board that has been advising Housing First on everything from design of the individual living quarters to wraparound social services that will be offered on-site.
In line with the advice of the peer panel, the units will have simple amenities that most people take for granted. For example, residents will be able to open and close the windows and to adjust the thermostats in their individual units.
The complex will have 38 one-bedroom apartments that each are up to 806 square feet. Twelve two-bedroom units of 1,113 square feet will be reserved for residents with children. About 25% of young adults who are homeless are parents, according to information from Sisters of Charity Foundation.
Supportive services — potentially in–cluding medical and mental health care, education and employment support and family mediation counseling — will be available on-site. The complex also may have an on-site training kitchen, indoor and outdoor play areas for kids, outdoor recreation areas and a computer room for job and school activities.
In accordance with the underpinning housing first philosopy, applicants generally will be approved for tenancy without having to meet many preconditions, such as achieving sobriety. Case managers, a therapist, a supportive employment specialist and other social service providers will be on-site to encourage residents to establish and pursue goals, which might include seeking mental health care, receiving addiction treatment, earning a degree, or securing a job.
D'Orazio says residents with jobs will pay up to 30% of their income toward rent. Residents will be able to stay as long as they wish, but D'Orazio expects many to gain stability and then to move elsewhere, freeing up units for other unhoused young adults.
D'Orazio notes that diversity will be welcomed, particularly since about 75% of homeless young adults are African American and an estimated 40% of transitional-age youth identify as lesbian, gay, transitioning or questioning.
The facility's culture will encourage all residents to have a voice in how the complex functions.
"We want the residents to be very much involved as leaders, and we want this to be a vibrant, youth-led place," says D'Orazio.
Consequences, not causes
Cotton says there are many reasons young people may struggle with housing instability. They may age out of foster care, as she did, with few resources or skills and nowhere to go; they may have been raised in poverty and their family may be unable to feed or support them. She says landlords in the private market may be reluctant to rent to teenagers or people in their early 20s who have not established credit or a work history even if they have the money to cover first and last month's rent and a damage deposit.
Cotton adds that when it comes to people of color — including minority youth — "our economy has been very broken and unjust due to a history of poverty and systemic racism." She says, too, that behavioral health issues, running away from home, sex trafficking and other circumstances connected with being unhoused "are often consequences of homelessness, not causes."
She notes that foster youth are more vulnerable than other young people "because more often than not, they aren't provided with concrete support systems and are easily subject to instability."
Housing First Cleveland says it has almost ended homelessness for chronically ill in Cuyahoga County
Leadership of the Housing First Cleveland partnership that is building the complex for transitional age youth says that collaborative has nearly achieved its goal of helping to end homelessness for chronically ill, chronically homeless adults.
Seventeen Cleveland-area organizations including the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland began meeting around 2002 to discuss the problem of chronic homelessness in their community, and then in 2006 they partnered as Housing First Cleveland with the lofty goal of ending chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County.
Since then, Housing First Cleveland has built 13 supportive housing complexes that together have nearly 800 units, but none of those are expressly for young adults. Housing First Cleveland also has made available more than 280 scattered site units — that is, housing outside of large complexes — for homeless adults. According to Angela D'Orazio, 95% of residents in Housing First Cleveland are now stably housed, meaning that they no longer are experiencing chronic homelessness. D'Orazio is senior program officer for the homelessness focus area for Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.
Housing First and its founders have secured more than $132 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other sources. Over the past 23 years, the Sisters of Charity Foundation has donated more than $3.5 million toward solutions for the unhoused.
Housing First Cleveland partners Among the 17 organizations partnering in the Housing First Cleveland collaborative are:
• AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland — An AIDS service organization that provides social and medical services to people with HIV and prevention services to people at great risk for acquiring the virus that causes AIDS.
• CHN Housing Partners — A nonprofit organization that works with other organizations in Ohio and other states to increase capacity for affordable housing. CHN owns property that is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• The city of Cleveland.
• Cuyahoga County.
• Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority — A chartered public housing authority that owns and manages property and administers rent subsidy programs for low-income people.
• EDEN Inc. — A nonprofit housing provider that owns and manages housing for individuals and families who are affected by mental illness or who are chronically homeless. EDEN owns property that is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Enterprise Community Partners — A national nonprofit that helps secure capital and undertake community development to increase the availability of affordable housing.
• FrontLine Service — A nonprofit service provider that supports people in Northeast Ohio. Its areas of focus are ending homelessness, preventing suicide, resolving behavioral health crises and helping people overcome trauma.
• Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland — A health care conversion foundation with an endowment of nearly $100 million.
• U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.