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Despite neighbor concerns, Ohio City youth drop-in center receives approval

Center would be first of its kind in Northeast Ohio
Posted at 6:11 PM, Feb 06, 2023

CLEVELAND — A project to help young people experiencing homelessness will move forward. Monday, the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals greenlit a youth drop-in center planned for an historic district in Ohio City.

News 5 previously reported about the proposal and the resistance it’s faced from some neighbors on Franklin Boulevard.

RELATED: Youth Drop-In Center planned for Ohio City’s Franklin Blvd

“The youth drop-in center will fill a critical gap in outreach, engagement and services for the young people experiencing homelessness in our community,” explained Angela D’Orazio, senior programming officer, Sisters of Charity Foundation.

The foundation is among the collaborating partners working with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries (LMM) to bring the initiative to life. Many are part of A Place 4 Me, which is a collaborative effort between several dozen partner organizations to end youth homelessness.

The partners say intake records from Cuyahoga County show an average of 550 young people seek emergency shelter annually. An untold amount of others will go unsheltered; couch surfing, living in their cars, or on the streets.

“A short time after I aged out of foster care, I fell into homelessness and was subject to navigating the streets because I was a young adult and really didn’t know anyone else in my situation,” said Kai Cotton, who now serves as the lead navigator for A Place 4 Me.

Cotton, and other young people who have experienced homelessness, provided feedback for the drop-in center project. They specifically chose the building on Franklin Boulevard because of its location in a residential neighborhood, near bus lines and other social services.

The building, which is already owned and operated by LMM, would need minor renovations to meet the needs of a drop-in center. It would include amenities like showers, laundry and food. It would also be staffed by trauma-informed safety officers and other professionals who could connect the young people to necessary support services. LMM anticipates 12-15 young people would use the center at any given time.

“They’re all hard workers—college students, parents, creatives and people who are just basically chasing their dreams. And most of them are focused on much more than dealing with the barriers associated with homelessness or housing instability,” Cotton said of the young people A Place 4 Me works to connect with services.

Many who live in the historic Ohio City neighborhood tell News 5 they support a youth drop-in center and the services it will provide. But some said the residential neighborhood isn’t the best location for such a place.

“Is there a need? Certainly. Is this the best from which to deliver the service? It doesn’t appear so,” said neighbor Robert Shenk during Monday’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting.

Fellow neighbor Ron O’Leary added, “The people who are most directly affected by this are the ones on the block, the ones of us who will be affected by the increase in noise and the traffic and the potential crime. One thing I didn’t mention was garbage.”

Since 2021, the group of neighbors have voiced concerns about potential trouble, clutter and increased traffic to the stretch of homes between West 38th and West 44th streets.

“There would be an increase in foot traffic, an increase in loitering and there are significant safety concerns,” said Delores Garcia.

The mother of seven children under age 10 told News 5 several neighbors conducted their own research into youth drop-in centers and the potential impact one could have on their neighborhood. She said a men’s homeless shelter down the street provided a sample experience of what they believe would happen if the drop-in center moves forward.

“We’ve had wonderful neighbors who utilize St. Herman’s on a regular basis,” Garcia said. “But we’ve also had some of those people utilizing that service that are very abusive to the neighborhood: Public urination, trespassing; I’ve had people pass out on my lawn or come onto the property.”

Over the course of months of listening sessions and feedback from neighbors, LMM has revised its original plan for the youth drop-in center. Instead of a 24/7 operation, it will be open daily between 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. LMM also said it plans to install gated fences around the property, with security cameras and a security guard.

Garcia and others said they weren’t convinced the measures would quell their concerns. Some advocates believed the concerns were rooted in misconceptions of homeless youth, but Garcia disagreed.

“We have all made a conscious choice to choose Ohio City because of its diversity, because of its range of socioeconomic population and because of its history of social services,” she explained. “No one, at any point in our concerns and in our dialogue with LMM, has said, ‘Not in my backyard, not in my neighborhood.’ We’ve said we need to find a place in Ohio City that best addresses the needs.”

She said the neighbors are willing to work with LMM to find an alternate location, but may consider litigation if the project proceeds as proposed.

The Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously to conditionally approve a variance for the drop-in center in its proposed location. It requested LMM submit a written security plan before it gives its full approval.

In a statement to News 5, LMM President and CEO Maria Foschia said:

“On behalf of all partners, including A Place 4 Me, the REACH Youth Action Board and Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, we are grateful for the time and consideration of the Board of Zoning Appeals. We are most appreciative that we can proceed with plans for the youth drop-in center, the first of its kind in Cuyahoga County, which will provide safety and respite for young people seeking housing stability.

We now plan to move forward with a renovation timeline and look forward to opening the center as soon as the building is ready.”
Maria Foschia, LMM President & CEO

LMM told News 5 it plans to submit its written security plan to the board by the end of the week. After approval, it will start building renovations and hopes to have the facility up and running in six to nine months.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the drop-in center, its progress and what neighbors have to say.

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