Just a few years ago, Star, 35, was living in Detroit, in an abusive relationship, the only one working, and trying to raise her three children (now ages 5, 3, and 2) in an apartment with mold and no heat. The future looked grim.
“I had everything that sustained me, but I also had a lot of personal demons, and I was going in a downward spiral,” she says. “I knew it was time for me to make a change, and I had to make a decision.”
Star decided in 2017 to move to Cleveland. After a little hope, a lot of prayer and even more hard work, Star and her children moved last month into their very own home on West 129th Street. The home was given to Star courtesy of The City Mission’s New Horizons—a program focused on finding affordable housing solutions for residents of Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center.
Star and her children moved last month into their very own home on West 129th Street courtesy of The City Mission’s New Horizons program.Star’s home is the sixth that the Mission has acquired from the Cuyahoga Land Bank, renovated with the help of donations and volunteers, and given to a New Horizons participant.
Back in 2017, Star faced her demons head on, picked up and left the only city she had ever known, and moved to Cleveland to live with her father (whom she hadn’t seen in 30 years) in a studio apartment. But after about three months, the situation wasn’t working out, and Star went to another social service agency for shelter and assistance.
The agency also turned Star away. “I remember a lady at the front desk said, ‘You don’t need to be here,’” she says. “She gave me this number [for Laura’s Home].”
The City Mission’s Laura’s Home has 55 rooms and 166 beds to provide shelter and wraparound services to single women and women with children. But for the past five years, every room has been full, and there’s a waiting list for new clients.
Star started calling Laura’s Home every day for a week, hoping for an open room. “The last time I called, the lady said, ‘You know, it’s cold, we’re booked, and it’s going to be a while,’” says Star. “I kind of gave up.”
In the meantime, Star took her savings and bought a van. “If push came to shove, I was actually thinking this is where we’ll live,” she says. By January 2018, she was working at a local Target store. But her situation was still dire, and in March, she began calling Laura’s Home again.
Then, while standing in line at the store, Star got the call that a room was available. “I feel like everything stood still at that moment,” she says. “The woman at the register was just staring at me—I was so shocked, I didn’t know what was happening. I was going to stay in my van with my kids.”
Star was a bit wary when she arrived at Laura’s Home (she had stayed in shelters with her mom when she was younger). But she was pleasantly surprised. “I got there, and I was astonished by the whole set-up,” she says. “You have your own room, a bed, kids’ beds, your own bathroom. I said, ‘This is it. I’m okay now. I’m fine.’”
Moving into Laura’s Home was the beginning of positive changes for Star. She took advantage of the services the facility has to offer—therapy, counseling, help finding affordable housing, vocational training, and connections to churches and other support groups—and used the free, on-site childcare while she performed required chores like food service, housekeeping, and maintenance, and attended classes.
“Star was just an individual who really embraced the program and everything it has to offer,” says Linda Uveges, The City Mission’s chief operating officer. “It was really easy to see this family was a great fit for New Horizons.”
Star loved living at Laura’s Home. “I didn’t care about the rules, they were easy for me,” she says. “They helped us holistically, they showed us the tools we need for success. I feel more equipped and focused on my life because of the tools I received at Laura’s Home.”
Star secured a new job as an eligibility specialist for the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and began dreaming of home ownership.
“She started working in April, and she’s saved a lot of money,” says Uveges. “She would say she never wants to be homeless again. The staff, the caseworkers, and the Laura’s Home manager all came together [and said] it was hands-down, Star [who deserved the house].”
Big smiles come with the open house for the sixth home donated by The City Mission’s New Horizons program.The City Mission accepted the offers from a variety of residents, contractors, and retailers to transform Star’s 1927 three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot, bungalow-style home, complete with a finished upstairs playroom. The City Mission bought the property from the Cuyahoga Land Bank for $1, and an anonymous family paid for the renovations. This is the third City Mission home the family has paid for.
Donley’s construction company served as general contractor and saved the day, says Uveges. “They stepped in with a little more than three weeks before Christmas and made it happen,” she says. “They donated their time and expertise and managed the project so that Star could get in the home before Christmas.”
Home Depot provided supplies like paint, rollers and brushes, and drop cloths and donated the cabinetry for the kitchen while Calvetta Brothers Floor Show installed the kitchen floor. Hertz got involved in the project after the Cleveland Police Department’s First District Community Engagement officer Juan DeJesus’ sister (who works at Hertz) shared the story. Hertz did a lot of manual work in the renovations, says Uveges, while the First District community engagement officers immersed themselves in the project. Cleveland Ward 16 councilman Brian Kazy also volunteered.
The home was unveiled to Star and her children Friday, Dec. 20, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This house is so beautiful,” she says. “I can see all the love that went into making this house a home.”
The City Mission has worked on similar homes through the New Horizons program in Old Brooklyn, Slavic Village, Cleveland Heights, and Garfield Heights.
Uveges says they are hoping to renovate two houses in 2020. She says a church has already committed to funding one home, and an individual has committed to funding the other.
Uveges says the Mission also wants to look at offering new housing options—such as a six-unit apartment complex—as a transitional housing solution.
“We know not everyone is going to move into home ownership,” she says. “Transitional housing is a nice opportunity for families to work a little longer, or maybe they just want to stay there. Maybe [an apartment] is a good fit for them.”