Permanent housing development planned for young people transitioning from homelessness

In 2019, 570 young people ages 18 to 24 sought homeless services in Cuyahoga County, and only a small percentage of those 570 people secured supportive housing.
So, several organizations that work daily to help those in Northeast Ohio who are at risk for or experiencing homelessness have partnered together to create a permanent supportive housing development for transition-aged youth (TAY) that will keep those young people from becoming chronically homeless.

Partners in Cuyahoga County’s Housing First initiative in late May announced a partnership with A Place 4 Me to build a new $12 million 50-unit supportive housing development in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood that serve transition-aged youth ages 18 to 24 who are experiencing homelessness. 

“These young people have unique strengths and needs that the traditional shelter system cannot always nurture,” says D’Orazio. “We know through Housing First that supportive housing is an effective solution, and A Place 4 Me understands the nuances of young people's experience—so this was the right opportunity to bring more supportive housing for youth to Cuyahoga County.”

Additional focus will be placed on TAY who are Black or LGBTQ+, says Angela D’Orazio, senior program officer of housing with the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, one of the partners. She says 75% of Cleveland homeless TAY are Black, and nationwide it is estimated that 40% of homeless TAY are LBTQ+.

In addition to A Place 4 Me and Sisters of Charity Foundation, the partnership includes Enterprise Community Partners, CHN Housing Partners, EDEN, Inc., and FrontLine Service.

The partners have attained low-income housing tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to help fund the housing development. CHN Housing Partners and EDEN Inc. will serve as development co-owners, with CHN as lead developer and EDEN as co-developer and property manager.

FrontLine Service will operate as the lead onsite service provider, while Enterprise Community Partners and A Place 4 Me will serve as convening partners for the collaborative initiative. The Sisters of Charity Foundation catalyzed funding for the development, and Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (OHS) and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority have committed to providing operating support in the form of rental subsidies.

The challenges
The experts say TAY are often hesitant to reach out for services when they are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Even with nearly 600 TAY turning to services in 2019, Kai Cotton, lead youth navigator at A Place 4 Me and chair of the organization’s REACH youth action board, says the numbers are much higher.

Cotton, who aged out of foster care at 18 and experienced homelessness, knows the struggles that homeless TAY go through every day.

“[570 people] definitely is an undercount, I can assure you,” she says. “About 70% to 80% of young people I work directly with will not go to a shelter or [Cuyahoga County homeless services] coordinated intake. They will go as unaccounted for in the HUD definition of homeless because they don’t want to go to coordinated entry.”

Cotton says many young people experiencing homelessness are intimidated by the shelters and will resist getting the services they need to get a good start on their adult lives.

“The shelter environment, or just the idea of shelter in general, is very scary for this population,” she explains. “These are young people who may have seen homeless shelters in movies or may have had friends who have gone through the shelter system. They just think shelter is a really scary place.”

Cotton says they are not wrong in their fears. “In reality, it is [a scary place],” she says. “They’ve gone to the shelter, and it’s prolonged their homeless duration because they’d leave shelter and not get to access the services available and are living on the street, are couch surfing, in cars, and other uninhabitable spaces because they don’t have access.”

Instead, what Cotton says makes the difference is a sense of security and safety, in an environment where young people can access resources to put them on the path to success.

“When we're looking at young adults who are experiencing homelessness, as a community we really have an obligation to support them, to have their voices be heard in how to address their needs from a housing perspective, to support them to get the housing,” says Kevin Nowak, executive director of CHN Housing partners. “And then we are creating the atmosphere to empower them to be able to take those next steps in life to stability and then to thrive within our system.”

A permanent home with resources
The building is expected to open in summer 2023 and will feature a 50-unit building that includes 12 two-bedroom family units for people with children. Each unit will include basic furnishings and each resident signs a lease, just like any private market apartment. The housing is permanent, and tenants pay 30% of their incomes in rent.

The partners worked with Hiti, DiFrancesco and Siebold architects on the building plans to create a safe environment with all the resources residents might need.

Preliminary building plans include a training kitchen to support life skills development; indoor and outdoor play areas to provide safe places to play; a computer room to support residents’ educational and employment efforts; property management and service spaces on the first floor; and additional private counseling spaces on the upper floors. Plans also include outdoor space with amenities like a basketball court and an outdoor seating area.

“When I saw the building plans, I was just blown away,” says D’Orazio. “[The plan] promotes client choice and self-direction and opportunities to build community with one another. That space is really thoughtfully designed.”

Housing First has an impressive track record in permanent housing, says D’Orazio. “The partnership, which formed in 2002, built its first housing in 2006 and completed its 13th building 2020.

“So, they have a long history of partnership and working together,” she says. “Over the course of those years, they’ve seen housing stability rates by 95% with 75% of people maintaining their units within the Housing First property; 20% moving on to other permanent housing; and less than 5% returning to homelessness. That is huge, that is incredibly successful.”

D'Orazio says there are other housing developments for young adults in Cleveland, with YWCA of Greater Cleveland's 23-unit Independence Place and Humility of Mary Housing's 11-unit Opportunity House, but she says nothing has been done with these partners on this scale.

Nowak says the group researched best practices to develop the model for this new development. “We really researched and visited other communities throughout Ohio to understand how other cities and areas are approaching this,” he says. “Then we tried to take the best of those practices and bring them to Cleveland. We really do have an approach that we're meeting the youth where they are and helping them take the next steps in their life.”

Nowak stresses that this is permanent housing, not temporary housing, a shelter, or a dormitory. He says they’ve been talking to potential residents to find out what is important. He says having that sense of ownership and job training is a top priority, followed by access to transportation, grocery stores, banking, and quality childcare.

“You know, our youth that we've worked with are highly motivated people who are trying to take that next step in their lives,” Nowak says. “So, we’re helping to provide the access to the tools of education and employment opportunities of high-quality daycare. And we’re starting with that power of the permanent address, starting with that power of having somewhere to live that is safe, decent, affordable housing.”

Cotton says she thinks the housing development and the services the partners plan to offer will help ease those fears as the young adults move down their future paths.

“I think a development like this will give them their own priority status and also have a place to call home in conjunction with supportive services on their own journey,” she says. “And technically [they] won’t be homeless any more. They’ll be with peers who look like them, have staff to push them forward and get them out of survival mode and their crisis state. They can breathe and be a young person and not a young person who’s in this big creepy place. This will actually be a home to them. I’m so excited.”

Youth and young adults experiencing homelessness or housing instability, can contact Christie Sozio at A Place 4 Me by calling or texting (440) 823-7227 or by emailing A Place 4 Me connects each young person served with a Youth Navigator to support understanding and access to resources.

Cuyahoga County adults experiencing homelessness can access shelter by contacting Coordinated Entry at (216) 674-6700, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and by calling United Way 2-1-1 after 8 p.m. and on weekends.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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.