CLEVELAND, Ohio – Housing First is on track to end long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County by 2020.
Housing First will complete its 13th housing project in 2019, bringing the number of units to 781. Since 2006, the organization reduced long-term homelessness in Cuyahoga County by 86 percent, from more than 800 homeless to less than 200, according to the agency’s data.
Long-term homelessness is defined as being homeless over a 12-month period or periods totaling 12 months over a three-year period. The organization works to create permanent housing and provide job, mental health, recovery and other support services.
It also puts a focus on helping people with disabilities or mental health problems, which can be a major factor in becoming homeless.
Homelessness will not completely disappear in the county. Long-term homelessness makes up 20 percent of the county’s homeless population, but they use 70 percent of emergency services in shelters, hospitals and the justice system, according to Housing First.
Housing First brings together a number of private and public organizations. FrontLine, a mental health center, provides counseling services and the Cleveland Housing Network Housing Partners is the lead developer for the housing projects. EDEN, a housing development organization, co-develops, owns and manages the apartment buildings.
The initiative also receives support from county and local government offices, as well as other advocates.
Ohio experienced a 3 percent drop in homelessness in a year, and a 20 percent decrease since 2010. Nationally, homelessness rose by less than a percent last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual homelessness report.
Mark McDermott, vice president at Enterprise Community Partners, the leader of the coalition, said the program is so successful partly because the housing is designed to be permanent. He said there’s a less than 6 percent unsuccessful rate, meaning people returning back to homelessness or less permanent housing.
“What’s most important is the benefit to the folks that have experienced this kind of living that none of us would want to experience,” he said. “To see that change in people’s lives is so great.”
There’s about a 20 percent turnover rate in these buildings, McDermott said, with people moving on to other permanent solutions.
Housing First buildings are spread throughout Cleveland neighborhoods. Inez Killingsworth Place in the Union-Miles neighborhood is set to open this month. One will open next year in the Fairfax/Midtown area and the final building will open in 2019 in Brooklyn Centre.
The first site, Emerald Commons, was built in 2006 in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. Councilman Matt Zone said the idea had been turned away in two other neighborhoods before it reached Detroit-Shoreway.
The area has two Housing First facilities, and Zone said over the past 10 years he’s received one low-level complaint about someone who’s lived there.
“Once you start restoring people’s dignity back into their life and they become productive citizens — that’s the greatest gift we can give humanity,” he said. “It starts with one person at a time and that’s what this model is all about.”
As president of the National League of Cities, which represents 19,000 villages, towns and cities, Zone said he’s learned more about efforts to help the homeless nationwide. Cleveland’s model is the closest he’s seen in the country to bringing long-term homelessness to functional zero, he said.
“It truly is a national model and a story that needs to be told,” Zone said.