by Angela Joyce
I went to my interview with Dolores Taylor, Resident Services Coordinator for the Famicos Foundation Downtown Superior Apartments, thinking that I was going to get a history of Famicos, learn about the logistics of their facility, and hear some statistics of how many people they house, how many receive services etc. Well, I did learn this information, but I also heard the story of how the facility got underway and the amazing impact that it has had on its residents. Taylor beamed at me as she stated: "We’re not just housing the homeless, it’s so much more than housing the homeless—it’s healing."
Sister Henrietta founded Famicos (Family Cooperators) in the late 1960’s when she moved into the riot torn Hough area to help families rebuild their lives and community. Sister Henrietta later called on the business and suburban communities for volunteers and resources. Famicos was then developed in 1970 as a family and neighborhood development corporation whose mission is to provide safe, decent, affordable housing to low income families and support services for those with special needs in the greater Cleveland community.
The Downtown Superior Apartments (DSA) are just one example of the efforts of Famicos to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing; however, this facility is unique in that it provides permanent housing and support services for the homeless as well as low income individuals. DSA used to be privately owned until 1995, when the owner was unable to maintain the building any longer.
The City of Cleveland then came to Famicos and asked them to purchase the property and lease it out to homeless people primarily. Famicos then purchased the property and later began leasing in 1997. They currently lease 44 single bedroom and efficiency units; 30 of them are reserved for homeless people. DSA is one of the first of its kind in Ohio.
The concept of skipping the shelter and transitional housing phases and placing the homeless directly into permanent housing is a new one. Taylor explained to me that she came to the DSA with a traditional case management mindset with files and forms, and quickly learned that this approach was not going to work in this setting. She learned that in order to make the support services program successful she needed to let the residents tell her what they needed. So the support services program began by first developing a relationship of trust and creating an environment for dialogue.
Today, residents use the support services program on an as needed basis and the services utilized range from ongoing counseling to dental work.
Taylor makes referrals to the needed services and then ensures that the treatment and follow up are continued. There are also many informal services that residents utilize on site— staff is always on hand to help residents with forms or a letter they don’t understand, or even life skill issues like how to clean a stove. Taylor explained to me that she felt the on-site services are crucial to the success of housing the homeless: "This is the type of place where they can lay a foundation—where they can get the education they need, develop the job skills, get the help, recover from the issues whatever they may be, get all of that out of the way and lay a solid foundation for which to build their future."
In addition to supportive services, the DSA model also brings about a sense of dignity and responsibility to residents. Although they do have supportive services available, DSA is really independent living. Residents sign a standard lease and are only asked to abide by the ground rules and pay rent on time. The supportive services are optional, but most do take advantage of them. This type of model allows residents to maintain their dignity and not have to depend on the system for meals, shelter, and clothing. They are living independently but are still receiving the support they need to work their way toward stability.
Through most of the interview Taylor talked about the success of the residents. She smiled brilliantly as she told me story after story of residents who came to the DSA with major issues— drug and alcohol addictions, physical and emotional abuse, and depression were some of the common ones.
Taylor claims that there is tremendous healing and everyone here is better off than when they came, and it is evident in her stories. Some of those same residents who came in with addictions, abuse and depression are now attending college, working full time jobs, developing computer skills, working with children, and volunteering at treatment centers. Many of these successful residents have moved on to larger apartments and some are now even homeowners. DSA encourages residents to move on after they feel stable and secure. "I think it is important to move on and make that opportunity available to someone else because the need is endless, but they need some time and a sense of security" remarked Taylor.
We finished up the interview by discussing Taylor’s hopes for the DSA’s future. She hopes that in the near future they can secure funding to develop a community room. The residents already have a strong sense of community, but they would like to have a facility where community events could be held in a shared living area. Taylor also expressed a wish for more agencies like DSA in Cleveland: "We are changing lives for the better and it impacts the entire community." Residents at DSA become better citizens and often take the opportunity to pass on what they have learned, whether it is in the form of volunteering at a drug counseling program or helping new residents get back on their feet.
The residents have proven that the program works and the staff hopes that more facilities develop to give other people a chance to benefit from this model: "I’ve always believed that people need much more than a house, a lot more than how to budget, develop a resume, job search etc—it is healing that is so greatly needed. Once the healing begins, you have fertile soil in which life skills can take root," Taylor said.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 - 2001