In 2007, the commander of the 2nd Cleveland Police District called together a number of community activists and homeless advocates to discuss possible solutions to a ever growing problem in the city of Cleveland. This was those shelter resistant homeless who would not make use of the community’s regular shelter system and instead lived outside, in abandoned buildings or other highly unstable and often dangerous environments.
Plagued by mental illness and other handicapping conditions, these men and women were subject to a variety of dangers not the least was the problem of exposure during Cleveland’s extreme winter conditions. They were and still are a danger to themselves and a problem for the communities that they lived in as they often were forced to take extreme steps to continue their existence. Further, their remote existence coupled with their lack of trust of most mainstream organizations made it extremely difficult if not impossible for them to access and make use of the various programs that might help them out of their current condition.
Out of this meeting, came a smaller group of advocates who shared the commanders concerns and were willing to explore various solutions. This brought about the concept of an overnight hospitality center that would provide shelter, food and resources in an atmosphere that would focus on the needs of the individual in a manner that would lead to trust and a willingness to at least explore available programs.
The initial concerns led to concepts that lead to the creation of the Metanoia Project. In its initial stage it was small, somewhat disorganized and based a whole lot on faith in the teachings of Jesus especially as related to the Beatitudes and the need to minister to the poor. Our first year we opened a half a dozen nights simply because that is all that our funds would support.
Since then we have grown to where we are open from Mid-Nov thru Mid April 3 evenings a week. We have our own non profit status, a board of directions along with a staff of 11 during the weeks that we are actually open.
From the Beginning
It was the summer of 2007 in Cleveland, when a small group of advocates met to discuss a growing concern over those homeless people who live outside the shelter system—in alleyways, under bridges, in abandoned houses, or in hidden camps. Described as “shelter-resistant” they were often difficult to locate, in constant danger from the elements especially in the winter and received limited attention with little or no access to available resources.
As a result of the meeting a collaborative was formed of outreach groups, local churches, and other community agency groups who brought training, knowledge, experience, and an understanding of this population. The collaborative developed a comprehensive plan that focused on both immediate and long-term response to the needs of the shelter resistant homeless.
The key component of the plan was an overnight “hospitality center” where homeless individuals could visit, find relief from the elements, enjoy a meal, conversation and a place to sleep. Once there, they would experience warmth, comfort, and and access to a variety of services such as: mental health services, substance abuse treatment, transitional housing resources, and more. It would function not only as an emergency response to Cleveland winters but also a place to form trusting relationships that might encourage people (who would otherwise resist help) to drop in, experience hospitality and hopefully return.
To test the feasibility of this plan, the collaborative opened an overnight Hospitality Center at St. Augustine’s in Tremont. It was open every Friday night from 7 PM to 7 AM from Feb 1 to April 11, 2008. Guests were offered a simple meal, opportunity for recreational activity,conversation, hot showers, clothing and a place to rest. The visitors were required to adhere to basic rules and guidelines. Donations of money, in- kind gifts, and countless volunteer hours kept the project going.
Based upon knowledge gained from this first winter, the collaborative continued its efforts. Funded by foundations and private donors, the Hospitality Center opened 2 nights a week for 3 months in the winter of 2008-2009, expanding to 4 months in 2009-2010. Each night open, the Hospitality Center was filled to capacity.
In 2009 the collaborative formalized the program by incorporating as an independent non-profit organization known as The Metanoia Project, Inc., a 501 ( c )3 tax-exempt organization.
In 2010, we moved our Hospitality Center to the former school building on the property of ST. Malachi Parish. We left our former site with good relations and a sense of real growth as the new site provided a larger more diverse space enabling us to serve more and provide a number of new elements to our overall program.
In addition, St. Malachi was already a focal point for the homeless population providing a variety of services. We both saw the Hospitality center as an extension of their current work and a natural fit to a common concern about the shelter resistant homeless.
We’ve operated out of this location since the winter season of 2010-2011 averaging 60 some nights per season. Our season usually begins in Mid-November and goes thru mid April with our being open on weekends from 7pm to 7am each night. In addition, we have opened during the week on a emergency basis determined by weather conditions.