An architect rendering of a building.
Renderings of a new housing project intended to help 18- to 24-year-olds transition out of homelessness presented to the Cleveland City Planning Commission in May by Hiti DiFrancesco and Siebold Inc. Credit: Cleveland City Planning Commission

This story was updated on Jan. 18, 2023, to include new county data that includes the percentage of people in Cuyahoga County’s homeless shelters who are 18 to 24 years old.

A new 50-unit building dedicated to young adults who are attempting to transition out of homelessness is coming to the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. Officials discussed the project in a Nov. 15 City Council committee meeting. Documenter Sarah Tan took notes on that meeting and left with the following questions:

Cleveland Documenters sought some answers. Here’s what we found:

In the Nov. 15 meeting, James DeRosa, director of the Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects, explained that a proposed law would help with the development of a housing project intended to help people transitioning out of homelessness. The project is for 18- to 24-year-olds. DeRosa spoke to the issue of youth homelessness, saying that demographic is one of the highest populations in Cleveland’s shelters (Update: Among people in Cuyahoga County’s homeless shelters, 10 percent are in the 18- to 24-year-old age group, according to county data).

It’s not clear whether young people in that age group make up one of the highest shelter populations, but advocates say many are still experiencing homelessness and have unique needs. Often young adults who are experiencing homelessness choose not to turn to a shelter, according to Kate Lodge, director of A Place 4 Me.

About 500 young adults each year reach out to the county looking for housing support, Lodge said. About a third decide they don’t want to go to a shelter. Young adults experiencing homelessness often can find places to stay at night, such as a friend’s house. They also may sleep in their car or even an abandoned building, Lodge said. Finding resources during the day and securing a stable, permanent place of their own are bigger issues.

“People really just need a hub and a place to feel safe, to charge the phone and to access services and housing during the day, knowing that they need those resources more than they need a place to lay their head at night,” Molly Martin, a part-time organizer with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), told Signal Cleveland.

What drives homelessness among 18- to 24-year-olds?

A variety of factors contribute to homelessness in this age group. In Cuyahoga County, 50 percent self-report a disability — often a mental illness — when seeking emergency housing support, Lodge said.

Martin said many of the individuals under 30 whom she has worked with through NEOCH are transgender and part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Locally, 32 percent of youth in Cuyahoga County foster care identify as LGBTQ+, according to a 2021 study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Social Work in collaboration with the county and other partners.

Lodge said local data may not show high numbers of LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing homelessness, but “our common knowledge is that young people are often kicked out of their families and aren’t in affirming situations,” Lodge said. “And if they’ve gone through the trauma of being rejected, their comfort with self-identifying as they enter into the system of homelessness is … they’re cautious for good reasons.”

Martin and Lodge also said that exiting systems such as juvenile court or foster care can lead to homelessness.

Ultimately, a lack of services addressing the needs of these youth and often the absence of an accepting family home to return to — what Martin called network poverty — can prolong homelessnes. It’s why Martin, Lodge, and others are focused on alternative resources.

“There’s kind of this like gap that exists that if you’re 21 and you’re not disabled or don’t have a substance-abuse issue, you just don’t qualify for more intensive services,” Martin said. “But it’s kind of not taking into account that you’re coming from a place of being network poor and aging out of a system that no longer has resources for you.”

In 2021, 150 young adults in Cuyahoga County aged out of foster care, according to Lodge. She added that only a small percentage of people who age out immediately enter shelters, but she said that the population in general is at risk. Lodge said programs such as Bridges and proactive efforts in finding housing vouchers help keep folks who age out from entering homelessness. Bridges is a state program launched in December 2017 that provides housing, education, employment and wellness services to young adults. People under age 21 who aged out of foster care at age 18, 19 or 20 are eligible. They also must meet one of the following criteria, per the program’s website:

  • Completing secondary education or an equivalent credential
  • Enrolled in college or post-secondary school
  • Involved in a program related to employment
  • Employed at least 80 hours each month
  • Unable to do any of the above due to physical or mental-health issues

In the early part of the pandemic, Ohio temporarily allowed Bridges to serve people 21 and older. Bridges and the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services worked with people up to about age 26, Lodge said.

Services and solutions for youth homelessness 

The permanent supportive housing project City Council discussed is one response to this issue. The space is set to provide housing and voluntary support services for the youth who live there. Services will focus on mental and behavioral health, financial literacy and employment. CHN Housing Partners and Emerald Development and Economic Network (EDEN) are working on developing the project together. EDEN will manage the property.  

To be eligible, residents must be experiencing homelessness and have a disability, mental-health issue or substance-abuse issue. Vouchers assist with rent payments for residents during their time living in the building, allowing residents to stabilize their lives and get support they need, Lodge said. Construction is expected to finish in fall 2023.

A Place 4 Me is also a partner on the project. The program works to involve young adults with lived experience as co-designers, working with architects to build the space they need. Operating within the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, A Place 4 Me has served 526 young adults this year, Lodge said.

Together with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, A Place 4 Me is working to open a youth drop-in center in Ohio City. The project would address the daytime gap giving young adults a dedicated space offering the services they need.

The site of a proposed youth drop-in center in Ohio City presented to the Cleveland Landmarks Commission on Dec. 8. Credit: Cleveland Landmarks Commission presentation

The Cleveland Landmarks Commission approved plans for the youth drop-in center on Dec. 8, as covered by Documenter Yorel Warr. The Board of Zoning Appeals is set to review the plans next, according to Lodge.

Check out a recap of the Nov. 15 Development, Planning, and Sustainability Committee meeting, complete with links to full coverage from Sarah Tan and Keith Yurgionas.

Want to learn more about Cuyahoga County’s services for people experiencing homelessness? The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is hosting a three-part webinar series that started on Dec. 12 and continued on Dec. 14 and 16.
Visit the NEOCH website for more details.

Assignment Editor (he/him)
Doug, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a copy editor and reporter. His work includes: The Pace of Passage about how quickly Cleveland City Council passes legislation; a look at the challenges of the city’s Exterior Home Paint program; and University Circle Police Department’s complaint-review process. Doug has also written explainers and guides and launched #CLEDocsAnswers, which answers questions Documenters have about local government.