Jan 23, 2023 - News

Ohio City neighbors spar over center for homeless youth

Beige brick building on a residential street in Cleveland, with a tree on the tree lawn.

The LMM building in question at 4100 Franklin Blvd. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

A proposal for a homeless youth drop-in center in Ohio City has reactivated neighborhood tensions that often accompany development discussions on the near west side.

Driving the news: Opposing perspectives clashed at a community meeting last week when the nonprofit Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) presented an overview of the project.

  • The facility would be housed in the LMM building on Franklin Boulevard and operate 10 hours per day, providing youth access to basic needs (laundry, showers, phone chargers, etc.).
  • More intensive case management and housing navigation services would be available based on the comfort level of individual youths.

Why it matters: This would be the first youth drop-in center in Cuyahoga County and fill a vital gap in homeless services.

  • More than 500 youth are homeless every year in Cuyahoga County, and thousands more are housing-insecure.
  • Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry CEO Maria Foschia said the center would be a safe space for youth to "catch their breath from the chaos of housing instability."

What they're saying: Supporters are embracing the center as a continuation of the near west side's legacy: a historically diverse community home to charitable institutions and church-based social services.

  • "This neighborhood is endowed with history and with resources," said Stephanie Morrison Hrbek, who founded Near West Theatre in Ohio City in 1978. "I can't wait to welcome [these youths] and be part of this opportunity."

The other side: Those opposed said they support the project in principle but reject the Franklin Boulevard location due to safety and management concerns and that they're disappointed in the engagement from LMM.

  • "This is representative of the dialogue we've had," said resident Lola Garcia. "It's a demand for support, like it or not, 100%. And if you don't support it, you're a bad person. … We will continue to oppose the plan as it currently stands, and we're willing to litigate that."

The intrigue: Though he was not in attendance, the opposition has been spearheaded by former Housing Court Judge Ron O'Leary, who also lives on Franklin.

Between the lines: Chris Knestrick, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, said in his 20 years of homeless services, questions about "optimal locations" often come up.

  • "There's no study that can tell me the optimal location," he said. "The experts who get to decide should be the people who have lived that experience. And the people with the most experience have chosen this space. I would say to this community that it is an absolutely amazing gift that they chose you."

What's next: The project is scheduled to appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals at 9:30am Feb. 6.

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