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Outreach to homeless population key for weathering coronavirus and new development

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Posted at 6:46 PM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 19:09:07-04

CLEVELAND — Social distancing is hard enough when someone has a reliable place to stay, but there are about 1,200 people who are homeless or living in shelters just in Northeast Ohio.

The Campus District is taking their needs during the pandemic so seriously that it hired someone just to connect with the homeless population nearby and help them find the services they need.

Frequent walks through the Superior Arts District, which is part of the larger Campus District, put Loretta Wilson on a path to find many people who need a helping hand.

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Wilson walks around the Superior Arts District making contact with people who are either homeless or living in shelters to see if she can help connect them to services they need.

“So you’re currently staying in the shelter,” Wilson asks one woman along Payne Avenue. “Here’s my business card. I’m Loretta, I’m the outreach specialist for this area.”

“My focus here is to help bridge the gap between the property owner and the homeless population,” said Wilson.

It’s a tall task in normal times. But the coronavirus makes every in-person interaction dangerous to her health. Her mask helps keep her safe, but it makes it harder to connect.

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"They may not want to talk to someone in a suit or a tie and that’s where I come in because a lot of times they feel more comfortable talking to me," said Wilson.

“[When] you see my face, I’m looking straight into your eyes, you can see if I’m laughing or crying,” said Wilson. “The personal things are taken away.”

Wilson’s work is an important part of making the Superior Arts District a welcoming place for all kinds of people, especially at a time when new development along Superior Avenue is getting ready to house new residents.

“The Superior Arts District has the two largest homeless shelters in the state of Ohio,” said Campus District Executive Director Mark Lammon.

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"So [people who are homeless] are moving through our neighborhood to get to other services and what we want to become, and what Loretta has become, is a navigator to that continuum of care," said Lammon.

The District covers everything between East 18th and East 30th Streets from Interstate 77 to the south to Interstate 90 to the north.

Within that area, the Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside can house up to 350 men a night and the Norma Herr Women’s Center can take about 200 women per night.

That means many of those people who spend the night in shelters will be in the surrounding community during the day.

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What started as an ambassador program to keep the Superior Arts and Campus Districts safe and clean quickly pivoted to provide homeless outreach coordinators because two large shelters are within the district boundaries.

“We want to be a trauma-informed neighborhood,” said Lammon.

That means putting together information for people who work and live nearby so they know about local services for the homeless population. When they have that information, they might not simply call 911.

“So they see somebody on their doorstep, they know who to call it could be us right away,” said Lammon. “So Loretta can come out.”

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Wilson talks to someone staying at a local shelter about the additional services they might need.

Her face-to-face interactions can help solve short term problems so Loretta can achieve her long-term goals of getting people in permanent housing and helping them stay there.

“It makes them feel like they have someone there, just for them, one on one,” said Wilson.

On top of the 1,200 people who are in shelters or on the street, 2,976 people have reached out to the county regarding CHN Housing Partners rental assistance to try to avoid getting kicked out of their homes.

If you’re worried about staying in your home, you can:

  • Gather information about your ID, proof of rent, and proof of COVID-related hardship paying rent
  • Communicate with your landlord, telling them why you’re having trouble paying rent and informing them that you’re working to get help.

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