Organizations near milestone in housing for Cuyahoga County homeless
By Lydia Coutré
A $12.9 million apartment building in Brooklyn Centre may be the final puzzle piece in solving chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County.
Housing First, a collaboration of community organizations in Cuyahoga County fighting long-term homelessness, has announced it is on pace to end the problem in the county by 2020. With the construction of this new apartment building, slated to be completed in 2019, the group said the county will have enough permanent supportive housing to sustainably serve all individuals and families with disabilities who are struggling with long-term homelessness.
Housing First defines long-term homelessness as an individual with a disability (mental health needs, drug addicted, HIV/AIDS, other physical limitations) who has been homeless for a consecutive 12-month period or at least four episodes totaling 12 months of homelessness in the past three years.
“This is a really exciting time for our community to really be able to, with all the partners, to really say that we’re on pace to end long-term homelessness by 2020,” said Susanna H. Krey, president of Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, which, in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners and the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, brought the evidence-based, national model of permanent supportive housing to Cleveland. “What a rare and incredible event this is.”
Housing First’s model links decent, safe, affordable housing with on-site flexible voluntary support services that are designed to help residents stay housed and live productively.
Housing First said it has reduced long-term homelessness in the county by 86% in the past decade.
People who are chronically homeless make up about 20% of the county’s overall homeless population, but use about 70% of community emergency resources when cycling in and out of shelters, jails, emergency rooms and more.
At the forefront of the initiative have been Housing First’s main operating partners: Enterprise Community Partners, CHN Housing Partners (formerly Cleveland Housing Network), EDEN Inc. and FrontLine Service. Housing First’s health care partner is Care Alliance Health Center, which provides mobile health care and mental health services to residents.
Housing First offers rent-subsidized, permanent housing and on-site access to medical care, mental health, recovery and employment services for as long as a resident chooses to live there.
The new apartment building in Brooklyn Centre, dubbed the Emerald Alliance IX building, will be Housing First’s 13th building, capping an investment of more than $131 million into Cuyahoga County neighborhoods since Housing First started in 2002.
KeyBank, which has been involved with Housing First since the beginning, saw an opportunity to support the initiative by providing equity, debt and ultimately philanthropic investments.
“I’m most pleased with the fact that we saw the problem and we decided collectively that we each could do something to make a difference,” said Bruce Murphy, KeyBank’s head of corporate responsibility. “And we also sustained that commitment over a period of time, which then allows us to ultimately reach the kind of success that we’re starting to see.”
The Brooklyn Centre building will bring the total number of such apartments to 781, which is projected to be sufficient in meeting needs into future years for individuals and families with disabilities struggling with long-term homelessness.
As Housing First approaches this milestone, players are thinking about what’s next for the collaborative.
“I think that that will be very important that as communities are making progress toward ending homelessness among chronically homeless (and) veterans, that lessons from that work is applied to these other vulnerable populations like youth and families,” said Angela D’Orazio, program officer for housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.
And, of course, the existing housing and services need ongoing support, Krey said.
This permanent supportive housing model can potentially be a solution for other high-need populations of folks who could benefit from stable home and services, said Mark McDermott, vice president and Ohio market leader for Enterprise Community Partners.
“There’s not many community challenges like this where the community can say we’ve actually solved that problem, and we can do that in this case,” McDermott said. “It’s not ending homelessness overall. But it’s solving the problem for those folks who are on the street the longest and who use up so much of the resources that are allocated for assisting homeless.”
And, he notes, it creates a savings. Housing First estimates it saves the community nearly $7 million a year because its residents aren’t straining costly safety-net services.
“When people who are homeless on the street see the opportunity to have an apartment for the long run and get the support that they need to move on, and be stable, get a job … deal with the addiction in their life, etc., I mean that is just such a gift that we as a community can provide to somebody to have that opportunity,” McDermott said. “It’s quite remarkable when you talk to folks who have lived in Housing First units what an amazing difference it makes in their lives.”