By Nicki Gorny
When Trudie-Ann Etchison was referred to Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center in September 2012, she expected to stay for maybe a week or so. And even after she started the Christian organization’s long-term program of basic job training courses and mental health services, she still expected to leave Laura’s Home by August of 2013.
But after more than one year of classes and certifications, Etchison finds herself among the Laura’s Home residents who are unable to move into their own housing after being denied access to many of the city’s affordable housing programs. In March, said Richard Trickel, CEO of the City Mission, Laura’s Home staff found out that the City Mission-run center would be considered outside Cleveland’s Central Intake system, which administers city resources such as housing programs. Laura’s Home residents had previously been eligible for Central Intake resources, Trickel said.
Now women are told they must leave Laura’s Home before becoming eligible for public homeless or many housing programs including rental assistance. For some, like Wanda Woods, this means leaving Laura’s Home and starting over at one of the County funded family shelters.
“I’m not going to take my children out of shelter and go into another shelter,” said Woods, who stays at Laura’s Home with her son, 9, and daughter, 6.
Laura’s Home residents are still eligible for programs, such as the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, that are not administered through Central Intake, Trickel said. But CMHA hosts a typical waiting list of 2-4 years, he said, leaving Laura’s Home residents with limited options.
“I’m trying to be patient, but it’s hard,” Woods said. “This was my first time in a shelter. I didn’t know that I had to go through all of this to get housing.” Woods is not eligible for rental assistance through Central Intake that other families in the community can access.
When she first called 211 to find a shelter in October 2012, Woods said, the First Call for Help operator told her about Laura’s Home and said she would have to be there by 7:30 p.m. to get a bed that night. She didn’t think she would get her children there in time, she said, but she did and her family has stayed at Laura’s Home ever since.
Her experience at the Laura’s Home has been positive overall, she said. After participating in the intensive, long-term program, she got a job with Emerald Medical Staffing. She applied for housing independent of Laura’s Home in July. Since then, she said, she has been struggling to understand why the Central Intake system bars her from programs for which if she was staying at any other family shelter in the community she would be eligible.
In October, she entered Laura’s Home Living Free program, which allows residents to remain at Laura’s Home until their financial debts are paid off. “I’m not trying to stay here for ever,” she said. “I’m trying to find a new place to stay.”
For Etchison, staying at Laura’s Home still feels like being homeless even though the County has declared that residents who enter Laura’s Home before going to Central Intake lose their homeless status.
“It’s not Trudie’s house. It’s Laura’s House,” she said. “You have to eat when they want you to eat. You have to be in when they want you to be in.” Even if Etchison had gone to Central Intake after staying at Laura’s Home for a week she would have lost her eligibility for rental assistance or transitional shelter.
Etchison enjoys her own bedroom and a shared bathroom at Laura’s Home, and said she is grateful to the program particularly for the spiritual growth it has facilitated in her. In her more than one year at the women’s center, she said, she has taken some of the long-term program classes up to three times and received approximately 20 certificates in areas such as spiritual renewal, office and classroom cleaning, and entrepreneurship.
“Now I’ve done everything here,” she said. “It’s time to get my own place.”
Etchison put in her application for housing at EDEN, which she said best serves people with mental health concerns such as herself, and has been waiting ever since. In spite of the obstacles posed by Central Intake’s control of city resources, she said, she said she feels confident that she will eventually live by her own rules.
“I think it’s going to work out,” Etchison said.
Editor’s Note: The Cleveland Street Chronicle offered Cuyahoga County and/or Ruth Gillett, Director of the Office of Homeless Services the opportunity to respond to this article. We offered her the exact amount of space in this issue of the Chronicle. She declined the opportunity to respond. NEOCH, the publisher of the paper, filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to overturn the decision to declare residents of Laura’s Home as not being homeless.
Copyright Street Chronicle/NEOCH FEBRUARY 2014 Cleveland OHIO