How I Ended Up at Norma Herr Women’s Shelter in Cleveland

By: Donna Smith

I never imagined that I would become homeless, but here I am at Norma Herr.  I was born in Cleveland and moved down to Youngstown in ’82.  I have a lot of family down there and was able to find good work.  In Youngstown I put my degree in social work to use becoming a case manager for homeless people.  I saved up my money for five years and with the help of a financial backer I was able to secure a $50,000 loan and a house.  Unfortunately, as soon as my boss found out that I was getting into housing she found out a way to fire me.  She was a controlling woman who wanted to keep me, and everyone else, under her thumb.  At this same time, the economy took a turn for the worse and I was told I was going to lose my home.  I stayed in that house until they forced me out through eviction and I began to fall into a depression. 

I no longer had the desire to live in a house, or even an apartment so I began renting rooms wherever they would take me, usually with friends or family.  I began to get in trouble due to the activity of those I was staying with, and soon they didn’t want to take me in anymore.  So, I turned to the Rescue Mission in Youngstown.  While staying there I was able to find work at a call center through a temp agency and secured an apartment through Catholic Charities.  I secured a good job and had been preparing for it for a year when I found out that my mother was sick. 

This is when my life turned for the worse.  My mom had suffered from a blood clot in both her brain and her leg, and to make matters worse Chase bank was foreclosing the house she had lived in for 50 years.  Before I came home my brother was living with and taking care of my mom, and without her knowing he took out an $80,000 loan on my mother’s house.  He started paying it off and then, without explanation, turned the receipt book over to my mother and disappeared.  My brother was nowhere to be found and he was the only one who could have saved my mother’s house.  Because his name was the only one on the deed and the lack of help from the attorneys at Chase we missed out on several opportunities to save the house and rid ourselves of the debt from his loan.

My mother was very involved in her community, from working with the local church to coordinating the street club.  She loved her community and her house.  She even ran for city council.  Consequently, she was very stubborn when she was told she had to leave her home.  I began contacting a local foundation, hoping for an extension on the time we had left in the house.  However, the women I was supposed to be working with would not get back to me and we were running out of time.  I have always been a very independent women.  So, as soon as I found out I could fill out the extension forms on my own I did and was able to receive a 60 day extension.  This was just enough time to convince my mom that her house was too old to even bother staying in anymore.  I soon found out that my mom’s boyfriend was actually useful.  Because of his Veteran status we were able to receive help from Veteran’s Affairs, who helped us not only find a house with the security my mom wanted, but also helped throughout the entire moving process.

As soon as my mom was settled she began picking fights with me and used the life alert button, that I got her, to report me for domestic violence.  I have never hit my mother.  I spent 10 days in jail for an act of violence which I never committed.  During my time of incarceration my mother attempted to report me for coming to her house and harassing her.  I have not spoken to my mom since then, I do not need that negative energy in my life.  After my release, I attempted to find work, however no one wanted to hire some with a criminal record.  This record also made it incredibly difficult to find housing, and that’s what brought me to Norma Herr Women’s Shelter in Cleveland.

My experience at Norma Herr has not been a good one.  The food is barley edible, it’s impossible not to lose weight when staying at Norma Herr.  Without places like the Fifth Church of Christ and The Word Church we would never get a decent meal.  Recently they fumigated the entire building for bed bugs.  We were told that we had to fit whatever belongings we had into our lockers and anything that didn’t fit was going to be thrown out.  A worker informed us that we could keep a trash bag of belongings on our beds as long as it was a sealed bag.  In this bag was several of my belongings, shoes and clothes, and a few very important papers.  This entire bag was thrown out. 

Additionally, they have made a new rule which states that we cannot have stuffed animals and personal blankets.  They threw out the quilt the church gave me.  Finally, I don’t feel safe.  Not only is the staff disrespectful, but many of the residents are disrespectful because they are bigger than other residents and think they can push you around.  Fights break out every day within the shelter, many due to mental issues that are not addressed by the staff.  I have tried to leave behind the negative energy from my mom, however I am surrounded by the same negative energy at Norma Herr and it’s making it more difficult for me to move forward with my life.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle September 2015 in Cleveland Ohio All Rights Reserved