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Youth Drop-In Center planned for Ohio City's Franklin Blvd

Project faces some neighbor opposition
Posted at 8:47 AM, Jan 21, 2023

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.

Cleveland-area advocates are in the final stages of creating a place where those at-risk young people can take a break and find resources. A youth drop-in Center in Ohio City would be the first of its kind in the Cleveland metropolitan area.

“I kind of slept outside, out at parks, stuff like that. I feel like if I would’ve had a drop-in center, I maybe could have reached out to resources I may not have known,” said Kourtney Morgan.

The now 24-year-old told News 5 she experienced a turbulent adolescence. She was coming to terms with her LGBTQ identity while enduring abuse at a foster home. During her senior year, she would ask to shower at the school before classes started, using a cover story that her foster home’s water was out.

“I was homeless that whole year. And I didn't tell anybody at school. I didn't tell my counselor or anything like that, because I didn't want to be placed back in a foster home,” she explained. “[At] the foster home I was in, I was getting beaten and not fed and stuff, so I decided by myself, I’d rather be out here than in there. I felt like it was better.”

Kourtney’s story is a familiar one to youth services advocates. In addition to the 550 18 to 24-year-olds seeking emergency shelter in Cuyahoga County, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland estimates about 100 young people will age out of the foster care system each year without a support system to prevent homelessness.

“The REACH board members of young people have really identified the need for a drop-in center as a really low barrier, hospitable place where young people who are experiencing housing instability can come and meet the most basic of needs,” said Angela D’Orazio, the Senior Programming Officer for Housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

The REACH Youth Action Board is part of A Place 4 Me, a collaborative effort between several dozen partner organizations to end youth homelessness. Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries (LMM) owns and operates the Franklin Blvd building identified in Ohio City for the youth drop-in center.

“The building is in a residential neighborhood. And that was intentional because we’re looking for a space that will feel safe and welcoming,” explained Marcella Brown, the Vice President of Development and Communications at LMM.

The drop-in center for 16-24 year-olds would offer amenities, like laundry, showers 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.

It’s a resource some in the Franklin Blvd Historic District welcome.

“Anything to help them get a little bit of a leg up, I think, would be helpful for the neighborhood,” said neighbor Tara Vargo.

During several public meetings, others have been hesitant about the project. Some worry it could compromise the historic character of Franklin Blvd or bring trouble to the neighborhood.

“We will continue to oppose the plan as it currently stands. And we are willing to litigate that,” said one neighbor during an Ohio City Incorporated community meeting this week.

Another added, “[I’m] supportive of the service. What we’re disappointed in is the level of engagement with the neighbors.”

Partner organizations told News 5 they have engaged neighbors and welcomed feedback on the project. They said they would limit the hours of operation of the proposed center to ease concerns from neighbors about safety or disturbances.

“Some of the arguments are sort of underpinned by this false narrative of who young people are who are experiencing homelessness,” said D’Orazio.

“All we are is normal human beings. We just want hope too,” Kourtney added. “The youth are going to be more scared of the neighbors than the neighbors are going to be scared of them because they don't trust nobody.”

The project has one final hurdle to overcome before it can begin. On February 6th, the Board of Zoning Appeals will review whether the Franklin Blvd building can be renovated and turned into a drop-in center. If the process is successful, LMM hopes to begin renovations immediately and open in the next 6-9 months.

You can learn more about the drop-in center, its progress and what neighbors have to say by clicking on this link.

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