CLEVELAND — Tekekia Holmes is a single mother who has been dealing with intermittent homelessness for 15 years and believes better life counseling, more affordable housing and a significant increase in Ohio's minimum wage are needed to turn the tide of growing Northeast Ohio homelessness.
Holmes has been living at the City Mission's Laura's Home in Cleveland for the past three months with her two young children, and said the agency has given her new hope toward independence with crucial life training that is helping her beat back a life of addiction.
“If your mind isn’t stable, how are you going to keep the job, how are you going to keep the housing," Holmes said. “I plan on being here until I know from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet that I can stand on my own two feet."
"It’s been a long journey, this back and forth, falling and getting back up, falling and getting back up. For some of us this is a safety net, this may be the only family that we have.”
City Mission CEO Linda Uveges told News 5 Laura’s Home is filled to capacity, housing 171 homeless women and children. Uveges pointed to federal statistics that indicate Greater Cleveland has the highest poverty rate in the country at 30.8%.
“There just isn’t enough affordable housing for single moms with kids. A single mom, to have a two-bedroom apartment, has to work 70-hours a week at minimum wage to make ends meet and that’s just not doable," Uveges said. "Ohio's new 2022 minimum wage of $9.30 is not enough. For a single mom, she needs to make $16.63 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment.”
Uveges said the most important thing in reducing homelessness is providing access to supportive services.
“I also really feel the key is supportive services, to really have those wrap around services, to ensure those individuals don’t return back to homelessness," she said.
Molly Martin, Director of Strategic Initiatives with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, told News 5 there are other concerns the homeless face in 2022.
"NEOCH is extremely concerned about the risk the omicron variant poses to people experiencing homelessness in our community. The number of people infected with COVID in our shelter system is much higher this year than they were last year," Martin said. "NEOCH saw a 30% decrease in unsheltered homelessness in 2020 thanks to the availability of hotel rooms and federal funding to de-congregate shelters, but now we are back to pre-pandemic numbers when it comes to unsheltered homelessness."
"There is difficulty finding testing is another one of the struggles facing the homeless community."
"Front line staff working in homeless shelters and homeless street outreach are out with COVID and staff capacity is threatened. Limited testing availability for staff and people in shelter is also a concern. Main point: there were policies that worked in 2020 to decrease homelessness and we are not using them anymore," Martin said. "NEOCH believes that the County needs a better plan for COVID positive people who are homeless, because currently people are forced to go to congregate shelter with COVID, and there is not enough isolation space in those settings to meet the need of COVID-positive homeless individuals. NEOCH has received calls over the last several weeks of people getting discharged with COVID with no place to go."
Meanwhile, The City Mission will cut the ribbon on a 10,000 square foot, $6 million dollar expansion in July 2022, hoping to provide addition emergency space and life programming for the homeless. The City Mission said it's getting the job done without federal and state dollars, and is working on acquiring additional public and private donations to do another expansion project in 2023.