The Cleveland Emergency Shelter has been discussing plans to expand its offerings by providing transitional housing to the local homeless population — but not yet.
Shelter Director Dwight Donohoo said the shelter currently owns a building behind the Wildwood Avenue shelter. The future goal is to turn that into a transitional housing facility for those who need a slightly more regular housing situation than what the shelter can provide, but need extra help getting to the point where they can have a place of their own.
However, he said some $200,000 currently stands in the way of that goal. Though he said he and his staff have quietly been writing grants for the past couple of years as well as sharing their goals with other local organizations, that goal still eludes them.
“We’re still working to get to our target goal,” Donohoo said. “But I’m not ruling out anything.”
There are times when the demand for beds in the shelter exceeds the number of beds — particularly in the winter months. Though he said the 43-bed shelter has had 26 or 27 people there each night for the past couple of weeks, Donohoo said he had seen plenty of times when the shelter could not keep up with demand.
One example was when Cleveland received snow earlier this year, and people needed to get away from the cold. When the weather is warmer, more of the homeless tend to seek shelter elsewhere for the sake of privacy, using things like cars or tents.
Donohoo explained the number of homeless people in the community ebbs and flows the same way the local economy does. When the unemployment rate is down, he said the number of homeless people also decreases, which is what is likely accounts for the number of people currently using the shelter being lower than it has been at times.
However, he stressed there is still a need for expansion because it is difficult to predict how many people will need food and shelter tomorrow.
“Homelessness can be very fluid,” Donohoo said.
The most recent point-in-time homeless census done by the local Housing Coalition, which is made up of local government officials and nonprofit organizations, revealed there were at least 99 homeless people in Cleveland.
Volunteers asked those individuals to fill out surveys about their living situations during a 24-hour period on Jan. 30 of this year. Of those surveyed, 54 people said they had been homeless for a year or more. Most said they were either living in “on the street” or in a “place not meant for human habitation,” while some chose not to respond at all. While 84 of the 99 said they were single adults, 14 of those people also said they had at least one child living with them.
The survey revealed people were homeless for a variety of reasons. Thirty-one people taking the anonymous survey admitted to having struggled with mental illness. Thirty-five struggled with substance abuse. Twenty-four said they had been victims of domestic violence.
Donohoo said he and his staff plan to assist with other such surveys in the future so they can learn more about those facing homelessness and know how best to help them. The goal will be to have more than 99 homeless individuals take the survey in the future because he believes there are more than that scattered throughout the city.
To provide a little extra help, he said he and the staff of the Bradley-Cleveland Community Services Agency, which runs the shelter, have been looking into turning a building behind the shelter into a 16-unit transitional housing facility that would provide a better living situation than the shelter’s current offerings for certain types of people — like families with children. The apartment-style units would allow for longer stays.
Those who live in the transitional facility would also have access to services like job training or counseling to help them get their lives back on track and into a more permanent living situation.
Though the CSA’s board of directors has not yet voted to begin a large-scale fundraising campaign, Donohoo said something like that could be in the works for the future. For now, expansion remains a goal — but it might not be met tomorrow.
“We’re trying to make it more immediate,” Donohoo said. “In these times, to raise that amount of money is not an overnight thing.”
He said about $50,000 or $60,000 had been raised as of the board’s most recent meeting.
For more information about the shelter and its goals, visit www.bradleyclevelandcsa.org.