Play time: Laura’s Home for women and kids in crisis expands, gets new playground

For more than 100 years, The City Mission has helped men, women, and families get back on their feet after going through crises. The organization helps their clients become self-sustainable through aid, counseling, and programming.

Specifically, the City Mission operates Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood to help women and their children who are experiencing homelessness and other trauma overcome their hardships and move toward productive, independent lives.

Helping people in crisis has been no small feat in the past two years with the COVID-19 pandemic. Laura’s Home served 695 women and their families in 2021 and has been at capacity—with a waiting list for its 166 beds and 55 rooms for more than five years. but now.

With the moratorium on evictions ending, nationwide inflation, and other hardships that have built up during the pandemic, Laura’s Home officials say they are seeing even greater need from their clients.

Living at Laura’s Home is a way for women to get the services and help they need while struggling, but the City’s Mission CEO Linda Uveges says it’s particularly hard on the children involved.

“Laura’s Home saw about 350 children experiencing homelessness last year,” says Uveges, explains that many of kids come to Laura’s Home traumatized and have been living life hungry, missing school, and generally missing the enjoyable aspects of childhood.

Uveges says the City Mission has been working on an expansion for several years to accommodate the growing need in Cleveland.

In 2021, Laura’s Home finally launched a plan to expand Laura’s Home by 10,000 square feet and build a new 2,000-square-foot playground for the kids to have something so many people often take for granted—the chance to climb, play, and relax.

In October, Laura’s Home broke ground on the project, which includes renovations to the existing building; adding about 100 beds, lockers, showers, and a multipurpose room to help with overflow in extreme weather conditions; and building the new playground.

Laura’s Home then held a Giving Tuesday fundraiser on Nov. 30 and raised $40,000, including a $15,000 matching gift. Laura’s Home was subsequently able to raise an additional $90,000 toward the $130,000 project’s price tag. 

“A lot of our kids are coming from dangerous and unsafe situations before coming to Laura’s Home,” says Laura’s Home program manager Mike Hahn of the playground component. “And this is just the opportunity to deal with the trauma they've experienced together to be able to play again. And that's really important right now.”

Rendering of the new playground at Laura's HomeThe new facility was designed by Bialosky in Midtown and Uveges says the expanded space will not only provide greater capacity for residents, it will also allow more room for the critical programs and counseling that both the women and children go through.

“The families that can stay with us they're staying for nine months, 12 months or even longer as they complete their programs,” Uveges says. “The children are engaged in programming along with their moms out through our Pathways program where we have a licensed social worker case management and staff to work along the children along with their moms.”

Additionally, Laura’s Home staff members work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and child advocates to create Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to help the students catch up and develop the educational, social, and emotional skills they need—something many of the children at Laura’s Home don’t get.

“Helping them establish IEP in the school system can take months for a child to go through,” Hahn explains. “Going through a period of generational poverty and going from shelter to shelter, sometimes that's almost impossible to complete.”

Hahn says these programs can be critical. “Having the time, having the staff working with you, and having advocacy and working with mom to help advocate for that child in the school systems to help get that IEP can be life changing for a child and their success in school,” he says. “We have a great relationship with a lot of other principals within the school district.

Education is an important component to the children at Laura's Home, but Uveges and Hahn also know that kids need time to be kids.

Hahn says they’ve been working with Mid-State Recreation in Pataskala, Ohio on a playground that had slides, monkey bars, and plenty of climbing areas.

The new playground will also be accessible to all abilities and skill levels. “As part of the expansion, we actually completely covered the [old] playground,” Hahn says. “We have a lot of children who come to us with various disabilities or maybe developmental delays, who have a whole host of different issues.”

Giving the gift of play to children experiencing homelessness The playground may provide a physical, social outlet, but it also has other benefits.

“We are working with all those kids to develop their social emotional learning cores, and this space will be accessible to all of our kids,” says Hahn. “Between having wheelchair accessible spaces throughout the entire playground, to areas that are ground level. as opposed to having to climb up. We're extremely excited about it.”

Construction and renovations are expected to be completed by early summer.

“We're hoping that this can be completed just before we do a kind of grand opening for these spaces in our expansion in mid-July,” says Hahn.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.