Feb. 16 marked the 25th anniversary of the shelter, which provides help to people who have no other choice but to live on the streets.
The shelter opened on Feb. 16, 1988, and was officially dedicated on March 20, 1988. For the past 25 years, it has served as a place for people to come in from the cold, eat a meal and sleep in a safe place.
It was the brainchild of the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, a local pastor of Faith Memorial Church who believed God was telling him he needed to do something to help the less fortunate in the community.
“The Lord really dealt with him about having a homeless shelter,” said Steve Hartline, general manager of radio station WCLE and Littlefield’s grandson.
“We [Littlefield’s family] are just encouraged by how the community’s continued to support it. It’s still so vibrant in 2013.”
The shelter still stands at its original location on Wildwood Avenue. It occupies what was a former fire station site. The fire station was being closed, and Littlefield got the idea of using the building as a homeless shelter, said Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who served on the shelter’s original board of directors.
Rowland said he and Littlefield approached the Cleveland City Commission, which is now called the Cleveland City Council, with the idea. The commission liked it and voted to rent out the old fire hall for that purpose for a low annual rent.
“He and I went together, and they agreed to rent it for $1,” Rowland said.
After that, the emergency shelter’s original nine board members met in the building that would become the shelter.
Rowland described it as being very cold because the heat in the building had not been turned on yet. He said the temperature, they dealt with during some of the meetings further cemented the need for the shelter in his mind.
There were homeless people who had nothing to shelter them from the winter cold.
Things began to fall into place for the shelter. The local Home Builder’s Association donated building materials and labor to renovate the building for its new use. It began to receive funding from the United Way and other organizations.
After changing hands from the Family Resource Agency, the Bradley-Cleveland Community Services Agency began running the shelter.
The CSA continues to be responsible for working with other members of the community to make sure everything works smoothly.
Harry Johnson, who served on the original shelter board and is a former director and current executive assistant for the CSA, said the first two or three years of the shelter’s existence were spent “stabilizing” the shelter’s funding. After they had done that, they were able to focus on the shelter’s mission.
When he looks back on the Cleveland Emergency Shelter’s progress, Johnson said he remembers Littlefield and the others involved being “adamant about making the plight of persons who were homeless known.”
He said he is glad to still be working with the shelter 25 years later.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” Johnson said.
The shelter, in addition to receiving funding from various groups, relies on churches like the one Littlefield pastored to help feed the homeless.
Johnson said local churches often donate food to help people who stay at the shelter.
Pat Hicks, another original board member, said she has seen the shelter’s progress and support from the community over the years.
When the board originally met, she said they visited shelters in surrounding counties to see what could be done in Cleveland.
“I can proudly say, ‘our shelter is tops,’” said Hicks. “It meets so many needs of the homeless — not just a clean bed at night.”
Rowland said anyone in the community is encouraged to donate things like food and personal toiletries to be given out at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.
He said he is happy with the state of the shelter now, but is working with the CSA to look into ways to provide more help for the homeless. That could include either adding onto the shelter or procuring a second location to provide more space, said Rowland.
“I think the shelter serves a great purpose,” Rowland said. “I think it’s run very well now.”
Dwight Donohoo, executive director of the Cleveland Emergency Shelter, said during the CSA’s Jan. 24 meeting that around 200 people had stayed at the shelter just since October. The average person stayed at the shelter for about two and a half weeks.
Anyone in need of help from or interested in donating to the shelter can call 478-1458.