The Cleveland Hostel in Ohio City will serve as Cleveland's seasonal cold-weather homeless shelter. It will have 24-hour access, a capacity of 60 and ample space for dining and isolation if guests experience Covid symptoms. The location was selected after months of meetings between local government and non-profit partners.
Michael Sering, of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, told Cleveland City Council's health and human services committee — presided over by new chair Councilman Kerry McCormack — that the seasonal site opened on the night of Dec. 1 and has been averaging 33 persons per night in its first week of operations. (Dec. 1 was also the first evening of heavy snowfall in Cleveland.)
The Cleveland Hostel will function as the seasonal shelter until mid-April and will be funded largely by Cuyahoga County CARES Act dollars and the Community West Foundation. Funding is in place through April. Sering said that Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries' central kitchen will prepare meals at the site, and accommodations have been made for spaced out dining.
The cold-weather shelter is a result of increased coordination during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also a result of vocal public support, in January
, for Cleveland's unhoused population. After a zoning dispute in Ward 11 over a church's ability to shelter those experiencing homelessness, members of the community rallied at City Hall to show support for the church (Denison UCC) and to ask legislators to take homelessness seriously by developing a cold-weather plan.
Chris Knestrick, Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, told City Council Tuesday that since March, there has been a 30% decrease in unsheltered homelessness in Cleveland. That's due in large part to increased street outreach during the pandemic and new shelter capacity thanks to public and nonprofit dollars. Additionally, things like hygiene stations have been added citywide. Eleven of them are now in place in high-traffic areas near other service sites.
The Cleveland Hostel won't be the only cold weather shelter in town, either. The Metanoia Project, a nonprofit which last year worked in conjunction with Denison UCC, will operate three additional sites this season with varying capacities. Two hotel sites, including one specifically for unsheltered people with Covid-19, are also still in operation
Homeless service providers say that Ohio City Inc. was instrumental in both setting up the hygiene stations and facilitating the Cleveland Hostel as the seasonal shelter location. Knestrick told Scene in a phone call following the council meeting that there was almost no pushback to the location, which is on W. 25th Street near one of Cleveland's most popular nightlife districts.
In January, Knestrick called on Clevelanders to "take a stand against NIMBYism and racism in our community" which led to the Denison UCC dispute.
Crucially, the Hostel will not exclusively be an overnight facility. Due to Covid and the importance of sheltering in place, it will be a 24-hour operation. In compliance with HUD best practices, the site has semi-private rooms, and laundry and cleaning will be conducted on a daily basis. NEOCH and LMM will work with guests toward establishing permanent housing solutions during their stays.
When asked for final comments at Tuesday's meeting, Sering, Knestrick and Melissa Sirak, the new head of the County's office of Homeless Services, all said that contributions of money and time are valuable, especially due to a dip in volunteers across the board.
Knestrick reminded council — and the city — that as people find themselves in housing crises, we should be responding from a place of compassion and love.
(People who are facing imminent homelessness can call (216) 674-6700.)
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.