by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2014) Welcome House, which purchased the Cuyahoga County Archives buildings at W. 29th and Franklin, hopes to use the main building, the Rhodes House, to provide housing and support services for twenty-four developmentally disabled young adults who are aging out of foster care.
Welcome House Executive Director Tony Thomas explains the need for such a place for young people with developmental disabilities aging out of foster care. Thomas says when these young people reach age 19 “the County Board of Developmental Disabilities struggles to find placement for them, many don’t end up in the right situation.”
Thomas says the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities currently has “3,400 people waiting for service.” He said the 24 places Welcome House hopes to provide are a drop in the bucket compared to the need. Welcome House chose to target those aging out of foster care, because it is a group of people that “don’t have family and have no place to go.”
Welcome House, which currently runs 31 group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities, already has some clients that were referred to its facilities as young people aging out of foster care. Thomas said he knows of their special needs for counseling and mental health services. He says often the young people have been in multiple foster homes while growing up. They often haven’t been exposed to very much good parenting during those experiences.
Thomas believes the new facility at the Rhodes House will be unique in the State of Ohio in serving only developmentally disabled young adults aging out of foster care. Referrals to the new apartments will come from the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Thomas says Welcome House will work with the County Board of Developmental Disabilities to help the young adults make the transition from the foster care system to a highly supportive apartment building. Thomas said the nice thing about working with the County Board is that Welcome House will often know a year or two ahead of time when a referral is to be made.
He says Welcome House will partner with Linking Employment Abilities and Potential (LEAP) to help the young residents secure employment. He envisions LEAP employment counselors working with clients during the day and a Direct Support Professional from Welcome House working with clients in the evening on community living skills and support. The facility will be staffed 24 hours a day to provide a safe, secure, environment for residents.
Thomas says the length of stay of residents at Welcome House depends on the individual. Some individuals may be able to move out on their own, others may stay at Welcome House for life. Thomas says Welcome House continues to offer services to those that move out on their own, offering them a long term support system creating a community around them. Welcome House makes sure they are in a safe place, they have a good lease and sufficient income to pay their expenses.
With strong advocacy from County Council representative Yvonne Conwell, late last year Cuyahoga County Council voted to approve Welcome House’s proposal for the site on Franklin Blvd. The site includes two buildings the Robert Russell Rhodes House (2905 Franklin) and the Nelson Stanford House (just east of the Rhodes House). Welcome House then purchased the site. Thomas said the County insisted those bidding on the site, bid for the entire site.
The Rhodes House, says Thomas, will work well for what Welcome House proposes. He says the front area – currently the public area for the Cuyahoga County Archives — will serve as office space for program staff, a game room for the young adults and a meeting room, which he hopes to make available on occasion for the neighborhood block club. The area in the rear, which now serves as storage area for the County Archives, will be converted into apartments for the young adults referred to Welcome House.
Thomas says the Rhodes House “is a well laid out building for apartments.” He noted that it is interesting that the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation (the predecessor of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities) in the late 1960s and early 1970s used the Rhodes House as a school for youth with developmental disabilities.
The Stanford House is more suitable for office space than apartments, said Thomas. Because Welcome House already has a long-term lease in Westlake for its headquarters, it is looking to work with Ohio City Inc. to find suitable office tenants for the Stanford House, said Thomas.
If Welcome House is successful in securing the funding to convert the Rhodes Building into use as apartments for its clients, Thomas expects work on the building at 2905 Franklin will begin in early 2016 and the facility will be able to open in mid 2016. Thomas says Welcome House has applications pending for both Federal and State Historic Tax Credits, an application for funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and an application at the Federal Home Loan Bank in Cincinnati, which uses funds from bank fees to fund affordable housing programs.
Welcome House has already received approval from the City of Cleveland for funds from its Housing Trust Fund. Thomas says when 50% of the funding has been secured, Welcome House, along with their lending partner First Merit Bank, will feel comfortable moving forward on the project.
In the meantime, the Cuyahoga County Archives must begin moving their documents to a new location. Thomas said he believes that process will take about six months and begin sometime next year. Lenay Stevers, a Cuyahoga County Archives staff member, says the tentative plan is for the archives to be moved to the former Halle Warehouse at E. 40th and Perkins. She says the public will continue to have access to the archives at the new location.
Welcome House thus far has been successful in gaining the support it needs to create a supportive environment for young adults with developmental disabilities aging out of the foster care system. It gained the necessary support in the Cuyahoga County Council to win approval for its proposal. It successfully navigated the Board of Zoning Appeals to gain 5-0 approval of the variances needed for the program to locate at the site. The Franklin Clinton Block Club, the neighborhood block club, voted its support for the proposal. The Board of Ohio City Inc, the local development corporation, voted 18-1 to support the proposal.
Despite these successes obstacles still remain. Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman, a strong supporter of Welcome House’s proposal, says neighborhood residents had ample opportunity for public discussion of the proposal at over a dozen community meetings. Most of those that have heard the proposal are supportive and ready to welcome Welcome House to the neighborhood, he said.
However, Cimperman is concerned that two or three individuals dissatisfied with the proposal are trying to disrupt its funding. He pointed out an anonymous email he said is filled with erroneous information that was being circulated in Ohio City. He said the same individuals have been lobbying the funding sources downstate to turn down the funding applications submitted by Welcome House.
The email circulated, for example mentions the high poverty rate in the census tract where Welcome House would be located to try to make the case that the Rhodes House would be isolating its clients in a high crime, low income neighborhood. The email makes a general reference high crime areas and the economic segregation of poor people. The email while mentioning the poverty rate in an attempt to paint the picture of economic segregation, fails to mention the economic integration of the Ohio City census tract 1036.02 where Welcome House would be located. In addition to having a good number of poor households, the census track also has a good number of households with incomes over $100,000.
Cimperman is fearful that a proposal to serve people with “cognitive disabilities that are coming to the neighborhood because they have no place else to go”, may get shot down “because unfortunately sometimes the negativity” is what influences the funders to say no.
Thomas said Welcome House has become aware of the opposition. He said neighborhood residents and organizations in support of Welcome House “have sent letters out to counter this stuff.” He said he counted 17 public meetings, including meetings with Ohio City Block Clubs, where he spoke about the project. He said when people had concerns about the project, “I thought I did a good job of changing perceptions of people.”