After years of planning and development, young people with lived expertise in homelessness are leading the launch of a youth drop-in center in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. In February, Cleveland’s Board of Zoning Appeals gave the go-ahead on the next stage of launching the center where young people seeking housing stability can find respite, resources and safety.
A Place 4 Me, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services has partnered with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM), young adult leaders, local funders and service providers to introduce the drop-in center. In an average year, about 550 young people will seek emergency shelter in Cuyahoga County because they don’t have a place to stay. An untold amount of others will go unsheltered; couch surfing, living in their cars, or on the streets.
Drop-in centers are critical elements of a systemic approach to prevent and end youth homelessness
Guests of the center will access food in the kitchen, clothing and personal hygiene items, wash clothes in the laundry room, shower, and take a break in the living room, dining room, or library. A small computer lab will be available for guests, as well as multiple charging pods. There will be an area for guests’ children to play with supervision. Staff will link guests to a variety of housing supports and services, including access to diversion and prevention assistance, family mediation and reunification support, emergency rental assistance, Rapid Re-Housing, and supportive housing. The youth drop-in center (YDIC) is not a shelter and does not provide overnight bed capacity.
Kai Cotton, lead navigator with A Place 4 Me, an initiative of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland to end youth homelessness, is a formerly homeless youth who helped create the center. She said there is a need for a youth drop-in center in Cuyahoga County and that similar centers exist in other cities in Ohio. Additionally, she said, the center will not attract crime.
“Some people think people experiencing homelessness are more likely to commit a crime, but the opposite is true – they’re more likely to be victims of crime,” she told the BZA. “The drop-in center will be a sanctuary for young adults. It’s an opportunity for their needs to be met. Drop-in centers are proven to lower the chances of people experiencing homelessness to sleep in the streets.”
Angela D’Orazio, senior program officer at the Sisters of Charity Foundation, which contributed funding and research support to the effort, said youth experiencing homelessness feel safer at youth facilities than at adult facilities. She cited a study showing that more than one-third of young people do not use emergency shelters they’re referred to by social service agencies, while others leave within days and “get lost to the system.”
“Young people here and around the country have said an emergency shelter is not what they want and need,” she said. “A youth shelter like the one we propose honors young people’s lived experience and their hope for a better response to the trauma of housing instability.”
Several media outlets have spoken with team members to better understand the services and impact a center like this could provide. Here are some recent stories about ther drop-in center:
Access more media coverage here.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System.
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